Meet the Methatug: the world’s first methanol-powered tugboat

Earlier this week, at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges, the Methatug made its first public appearance. The tugboat, which runs on methanol, is part of the FASTWATER project, which aims to demonstrate the feasibility of methanol as a sustainable fuel for the shipping industry.

FASTWATER is an EU funded project which aims to move waterborne transport away from fossil fuels and reduce its pollutant emissions to zero impact, through the use of methanol. 

The FASTWATER consortium consists of 15 partners with a strong track record on methanol projects (particularly for waterborne transport) and includes shipyards, a shipowner, engine manufacturers, an equipment supplier, a classification society, a methanol producer, a major port and research institutes. 

Prof. Sebastian Verhelst, Project Coordinator FASTWATER said: ‘Methanol has everything to become the fuel of the future and play a pioneering role in the greening of the shipping industry. Thanks to the expertise and efforts of the different partners from the consortium, we are now able to take important steps with the Methatug to demonstrate its feasibility.’

One of the partners, and the producer of the methanol, is Canada-based Methanex. They have produced a convenient FAQ relating to all things methanol which the reader might find useful.

Ships can be retro-fitted to run on methanol because it is liquid under ambient conditions. For the Methatug, the engines from an existing tugboat were converted into ‘dual fuel’ engines, running on a mixture of methanol and traditional fuel. The 30-metre-long tugboat can store 12.000 litres of methanol, enough for two weeks of tug work.

The Methatug is not the first environmentally friendly vessel at Port of Antwerp-Bruges, the world’s  first tugboat to run on hydrogen is already operating there and an electrically powered tugboat – the first in Europe – will join it later this year.

As the fifth largest bunker (refueling) port in the world (behind Singapore, Rotterdam, Fujairah and Hong Kong), Port of Antwerp-Bruges also aims to become a full-fledged multi-fuel port, in which seagoing and inland vessels will be able to bunker, not only conventional fuels, but also alternative, low-carbon fuels, such as methanol, hydrogen or electricity. In early April, the first methanol bunkering with the deepsea vessel Ane Maersk took place in Antwerp.

Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of Port of Antwerp-Bruges: ”‘Together with our partners, we are pioneering with innovative technologies for the transition to alternative and renewable energy sources. The Methatug is a new and essential step in our efforts to make our own fleet greener and become climate neutral by 2050. Thanks to projects such as this, we are paving the way and hope to be an example and a source of inspiration for other ports.’

Annick De Ridder, Port Alderwoman of the City of Antwerp and chair of the board of Port of Antwerp-Bruges: ’The fact we are able to announce another world premier today in the field of clean energy is fantastic news for our port and for the shipping industry in general. Just like with the Hydrotug, the world’s first hydrogen-powered tugboat, this project confirms our pioneering role in the field of energy transition. The ecosystem of our port platform forms an ideal, large-scale testing ground for this.’

Paul Day
Paul is the editor of Public Sector News.


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