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Converting CO2 to methanol via steel production to power marine transport

Methanol has been touted as a potential climate-friendly ‘fuel of the future’ since the late 1980s, but its use in the transport sector remains limited. The possibility of generating it from CO2 has recently rekindled interest. An EU-funded project explored this option to decarbonise the steel industry and power cargo ships that would benefit both the environment and, subsequently, citizens.

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The steel industry and maritime sector are two of the world’s biggest emitters of CO2, accounting for as much as 8 % and 2.5 % of CO2 emissions, respectively. So, what if a novel conversion technology designed specifically for steel mill power plants could kill two birds with one stone?

Such a technology – or rather, combination of technologies – now exists thanks to efforts under the EU-funded FReSMe project. The project successfully combined an innovative CO2 capture technology with an advanced methanol synthesis process. “It all takes place during the steel-making process. Several gaseous streams are generated and are normally combusted in the steel mill power plant or used for power production. This process results in large amounts of CO2 emissions,” says David Cuesta Pardo, coordinator of the project on behalf of Everis subsidiary I-Deals. “With FReSMe, we can recycle CO2 and turn it into methanol, which is more valuable than the electricity you would be producing instead. Any excess CO2 not used for methanol production is made ready for transport and storage, which enables a deep decarbonisation of steel-making.”

The methanol produced by FReSMe happens to be a promising alternative to marine fossil fuel. It’s generally acknowledged as safe, cost-effective, widely available and clean. It can significantly reduce the sector’s emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, and can help the sector meet future emission regulations without requiring heavy investment by shipowners.

“Methanol contains no sulfur and does not generate any soot emissions. It can be burned in modified engines and is liquid at ambient pressure and temperature, which simplifies storage and bunkering operations. FReSMe’s low-carbon methanol goes even further since, unlike methanol produced from natural gas feedstock, it does contribute to ship transport decarbonisation,” Cuesta Pardo explains.

With the International Maritime Organization having set a 50 % emission reduction target for 2050 (compared with 2008), FReSMe is a welcome opportunity for a sector under strong pressure to change its ways.

Aiming for more markets

The project has completed its main objective. The project team successfully demonstrated the technical feasibility of producing methanol from steel-making off-gases, and produced several tons of methanol using blast furnace gas from SSAB’s steel mill in Luleå (Sweden). “We are now focusing on the analysis of all the methanol generated during the tests, to validate our previous work before reaching our final milestone,” Cuesta Pardo notes.

Said milestone is the use of FReSMe’s methanol fuel to power the Stena Germanica vessel connecting Gothenburg and Kiel. The Stena Germanica is a large cruise ferry in service since 2001, which became the first major marine vessel to run on methanol after being converted in 2015.

By the end of its lifetime, FReSMe is expected to have multiple impacts reaching far beyond the steel sector. Methanol can indeed become an enabler for the development of green hydrogen and the associated renewable energy needed to obtain it. It’s a highly versatile alcohol widely used as a chemical building block and in transport fuel applications. As Cuesta Pardo adds, “FReSMe’s low carbon methanol fuel blends can reduce road transport emissions from combustion engine vehicle fleets and fuelling infrastructure. The methanol can be blended directly with gasoline, used for the production biodiesel and MTBE additive for gasoline and in biodiesel production.”

With the technology now ready to move into its next development phase and methanol synthesis technology having reached commercial status, Cuesta Pardo is confident that green hydrogen is just around the corner. With the right policies and regulations, market adoption could indeed be closer than we think.

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Project details

Project acronym
FReSMe
Project number
727504
Project coordinator
Spain
Project participants:
Iceland
Italy
Netherlands
Romania
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Total cost
€ 11 406 725
EU Contribution
€ 11 406 725
Project duration
-

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