David Cassidy: Practicality before perfection
David Cassidy, CEO of Proman, wants to see the world adopt lower emission alternatives available now, while investing in green alternatives for the future
Q. As the second largest methanol producer in the world, what interest or trends is Proman seeing from industry and governments in seeking to use methanol as a cleaner, alternative fuel?
Methanol is a viable transportation fuel that’s been used in the automotive industry for more than 20 years, particularly in China, where you have 100% methanol fuel blends, as well as blends down to 5-10-% methanol. The rail sector has also shown interest in a shift away from diesel due to its higher oxygen value and cleaner burning properties. Other countries have adopted methanol as part of the fuel pool, notably Israel.
While there has been resistance to methanol from sectors used to using competing fuels, in recent years this resistance has dropped. There is now international interest in methanol as a fuel and for shipping it has forced its way to the front of the queue for many. There has been attention from the tanker market and the likes of Maersk early on, but now, likely driven by the 2030 and 2050 emission targets, as well as an education on the benefits of the fuel, we’re seeing interest across every type of vessel, from ferries to tankers and containerships, as well as bulk carriers. It has been pretty dramatic in the past 18 months.
Regarding the order book, demand has grown exponentially. We were at just over 200,000 tonnes two years ago, and we’re over 3 million tonnes of demand for the coming years. And almost every month there’s another batch of new orders that go out.
Q.What do you see as the biggest challenges to the growth of your industry?
The biggest concern we have is that we are not working within a level playing field. We must ensure that regulators and governments don’t try and pick a winner. Education is key, as is demonstrating the benefits regarding job growth.
Ultimately, we need to have the right calculations, we need to have better sharing of data and we need to ensure we’re talking about life cycle and well-to-wake analysis. Frankly, I think we should be encouraging every fuel and making sure that we’re going with the science and not with emotion or lobbying.
Q. Out of all the green fuel options available to shipping, why should maritime leaders see methanol as a viable option and what percentage of the future maritime fuel mix do you think it will represent?
Leaders are focused on reducing CO2 emissions, and grey methanol, made from natural gas, addresses that with an instant quick win of between 10-15% reductions. But many have realised we need to look at the total emissions carbon profile and the need to reduce particulate matter, sulphur and nitrous oxides. The overall profile of methanol is attractive when you apply this lens too.
If you combine conventional methanol available today with other methods such as carbon capture, then you are looking at blue methanol with carbon reductions of 40-50%. We are a firm believer in carbon capture and have three separate projects underway in the UAE, Trinidad and the US.
With next generation plants you can achieve closer to 60-70% reductions, before you even reach green production methods.
Regarding the percentage it will make up for shipping, we’ve always been agnostic towards this as long as we can contribute to making the industry cleaner. Low carbon intensity methanol is available now, it can be built on a massive scale to help achieve 2030 goals, and will be good until 2045. We need to get more methanol vessels on the water without having to wait for the perfect solution. Then green methanol is around the corner and it becomes more about a matter of price.
Q. As you mention, cost and availability are two major roadblocks when it comes to maritime transitioning away from heavy fuel oil to alternative fuels. When do you see methanol costs falling into a level of affordability for shipping?
I think we’ve been able to prove that methanol from natural gas is competitive when compared to MGO or VLSFO, and the likes of Maersk and Stena Bulk have been proving this. For example, as part of our joint venture with Stena Bulk, our two methanol-fuelled tankers were the first vessels to bunker methanol in Ulsan, South Korea and we’ve also completed our first ship-to-ship methanol bunkering in Rotterdam – this is viable now.
Independent research from Argus Marine Fuels backs up what we’re saying, and shows that grey methanol is the cheapest alternative marine fuel currently available now compared to VLSFO.
And yes, while we firmly believe methanol is the cheapest alternative, I also believe that as a planet and as a species we need to get past discussions on costs. We need to pay more for the fuel so we can invest in the development of greener fuels faster. Industry wide taxes, such as global market based measures that shipping is calling for, would help accelerate the investment needed to get there.
Governments incentives for lower carbon and renewable fuels must also play a role to ensure there is a level playing field and is something we are seeing the British government, the EU and the likes of Canada implement.
Q. What governments are you working with around the world to create renewable methanol or ammonia?
We are partners with the regional government in the Varennes Carbon Recycling project, near Quebec, to create a carbon-recycling and biofuels plant where we can sell on the renewable methanol produced from the plant, which is substantially less carbon intensive. Proving that technology will be great.
Our development team has a number of similar projects in development all over the world on and almost every continent; North and South America, mainland Europe, Australia, Asia, in the UAE. So we are trying to develop a number of these projects simultaneously and we are geographically agnostic.
Currently, traditional major maritime fueling centres, like Houston, Rotterdam, Singapore or near the Panama Canal, actually have massive methanol storage, so it is convenient for shipping in terms of switching over. However, it’s very easy to see how new hubs could develop. If you look at the sheer number of other ports that actually have methanol storage, then all you need to do is convert a diesel barge into a methanol barge.