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DNV: methanol edges out LNG as top alternative fuel for vessels ordered in 2023

The latest stats from DNV’s Alternative Fuels Insight (AFI) platform found that a total of 298 ships with alternative fuel propulsion were ordered in 2023—an 8% increase year on year. The year also saw methanol go mainstream, with a sharp increase in orders (138, 10.8% of all roders), edging it ahead of LNG (130, 10.1% of all orders). Additionally, 2023 marked a breakout year for ammonia, with 11 orders for vessels run on this fuel (0.9%), and more in the pipeline.

Faced with increasing pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including stricter targets set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in July 2023, the maritime sector is considering a range of decarbonization options. Through its AFI platform, DNV registers the industry’s efforts related to newbuild vessels and retrofitting with 298 orders for vessels able to run on alternative fuels logged in 2023, and a total of 1281 ships overall.

As we navigate towards a greener maritime future, the growing demand for alternative-fueled vessels speaks volumes. These orders send pivotal signals to fuel providers and other important partners on shipping’s decarbonization journey. While it is clear that the maritime fuel technology transition is already underway, we now need to ensure the fuels powering these engines become available.

It is however crucial to emphasise that focusing solely on fuels may divert our focus from achieving a significant impact in this decade. What is required are concrete measures that actively lower emissions. Energy efficiency initiatives can yield decarbonization outcomes both now and leading up to 2030.

—Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO Maritime at DNV

By a small margin, methanol proved the most popular alternative fuel choice in 2023 with 138 ships ordered (excluding methanol carriers), a steep increase compared to the 35 ordered to run on this fuel the year before. The dominating segment for this fuel was container ships (106), followed by bulk carriers (13) and car carriers (10).

The second alternative fuel of choice in 2023 was LNG with 130 vessels ordered, down from 222 in 2022. However, when looking at newbuilds alone LNG would be in the lead as a considerable proportion of methanol orders were for retrofits.

Last year also saw LNG finally break the 1,000-vessel barrier (excluding LNG carriers), showing the fuel’s continued importance in the maritime energy transition. In 2023, the containers segment was the most active (48) for LNG, followed by car carriers (40), and tankers (30). The year also saw the first orders for vessels due to run on ammonia (11) come through, whereas with just five orders, hydrogen was a less popular choice compared to the previous year (18).

Investments in alternative-fueled vessels have been heavily driven by the container and car carrier newbuild boom over the last three years. It remains to be seen if this trend continues into 2024.

—Martin Wold, Principal Consultant in DNV’s Maritime Advisory business



Methanol also seems to be edging it over ammonia as what shipping companies are going for:


"Methanol is more expensive to produce, but ammonia is more expensive to handle."

This is somewhat to my relief, as ammonia can be pretty nasty.


Overall, ammonia production is energy intensive, consuming
8 MWh of energy per tonne of ammonia.



Pretty much level pegging then between ammonia and methanol production in terms of their energy content.


Ammonia 18.8 MJ/kg 12.7 MJ/L
Methanol 22.7 MJ/kg 15.8 MJ/L


dme 28.8 MJ/kg 19.3 MJ/litre


If you made green DME by using solar/wind hydrogen with Bio CO2 it would be cleaner
and more efficient


Making 1 ton of ammonia releases 1.6 tons of CO2
So when people say using NH3 ammonia releases no carbon that is not the case



Yeah, I did not bother posting the links to what I had looked up, but they reckoned that methanol takes a bit more energy per kg to make than ammonia, which pretty much in the roughest terms cancells out the extra energy density.

Googling energy to produce methanal KWh per kg reckons 11.2KWh/kg, as against your 8Kwh/kg for ammonia.

Near enough to even Stevens overall, for Government work.......'-)

Lewis Cleverdon

Davemart -
on the offchance this may be news, the Standard Industry Practice for UK methanol production before the fossil gas era was via Native Coppice Forestry for charcoal retorts, whose hydrocarbon offgasses were reacted to methanol. In its day, very big business. Judging by a 1987 NREL report, it would now be very competitive with Olah Process methanol, with each tonne of wood yielding 570kg of methanol.

Three key points of significance:
- the production is highly exothermic and uses no imported energy, and all carbon emissions have to be recovered by the coppice to maintain feedstock supply;

- the charcoal co-product can be used as a Biochar soil amendment for raising crop yields while also sequestering carbon for the very long term;

- NREL put the yield at 57% by weight of feedstock - i.e. subtropical coppice yielding 10.0t Dry Wood /ha /yr should yield 5.7t methanol /ha /yr, while the 2012 joint study by WRI & WFN of suitable land available for afforestation (sans farmland, old forest and special ecologies) identified 1,600Mha.s globally. The potential scale of production is thus far above the foreseeable maximum demand for a renewable liquid hydrogen-carrier in the form of methanol.

Lewis Cleverdon

please, could you clarify the release of 1.6t CO2 per tonne ammonia production. Is this due to the use of fossil energy, or to some aspect of the chemical reactions in the production ? I need to know before I can assert the CO2 output in discussions.


Hi Lewis

I don't know much about biological routes to energy production, as at one time the imputs of water, land etc were to put it mildly challenging.

Some of the newer routes, algae etc may make it a different ball game, but they are just pathways I am not very informed on.


The amount of carbon released while making ammonia has to do with natural gas they have carbon left over from getting the hydrogen to make the ammonia they just release that plus the Haber process requires lots of heat and lots of pressure and that takes lots of energy and that's usually burning natural gas.

Roger Brown

As I have pointed out before methanol as a transportation fuel cannot decarbonize this economic sector unless the CO2 is recycled (i.e. captured on board the transport vessel and returned to the methanol production site) or direct captured from the atmosphere. Economical direct capture from the atmosphere still seem like a remote possibility. I have recently read a proposal for capturing CO2 from solid oxide fuel cells (https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2021/08/the-case-for-onboard-carbon-dioxide-capture-on-long-range-vehicles/) on board ocean going vessels.



That is for a perfect scenario.
In reality there are umpteen sources pumping out CO2 in high concentrations at present, so it does not have to be the same C02 from recycled methanol, although of course the nearer you can approach that the better.

Lewis Cleverdon

To Roger -
While the CO2 released by the use of methanol in transport or stationary roles has to be captured for a carbon neutral outcome, it does not need to be captured at the point of use . I would agree that there is no sign of a Direct Air Capture of CO2 becoming a viable option.

However there is an extremely well proven traditional method of methanol production - that uses feedstock from Native Coppice Forestry whose regrowth has to recover every gram of carbon to provide subsequent harvests of equal size. An outline of this option was posted further up this thread, which may be of interest.

Lewis Cleverdon

To SCJ -
Thanks for your response. It confirms my assumption that fossil-sourced ammonia made with fossil energy has a serious carbon footprint, but that it can be made without large carbon emissions by using e-hydrogen and renewable energy. Given the appalling downside risks of a widespread ammonia adoption as an energy carrier, I take the view that it should be fought tooth and nail.



Ammonia is dodgy old stuff to handle, all right, but I am not sure that it should be characterised in the extreme terms you suggest.

We currently produce a couple of hundred millions tons or so a year of it, and although not without problems catastrophies seem relatively rare.

The main point is what is the true disaster area is things like diesel for shipping, which is not only a massive proven killer daily and yearly but tough indeed to decarbonise.

I would therefore argue that even using 100% ammonia from fossil fuels without renewables we would be doing way, way better than present practice.

But of course we don't need to, as ammonia production can be heavily decarbonised.

It looks in any case as though it is considerably cheaper, at least in the short term, to move shipping to methanol than ammonia, which is considerably less problematic.

Some LOHCs also look promising, but the important thing in my view is to get away from the current disastrous situation, and I would many times rather use ammonia, should that prove necessary, than what we do at the moment.

It is rather analogous in my view to the debate about nuclear, due to, again in my view, a completely disproportionate focus on risks.

I find it difficult to see how it can sensibly be currently argued that not having a massive world wide drive to nuclear along the lines of the French, until renewables matured, would not only have saved huge numbers of lives in mining and pollution but would have taken the edge off of climate change.

My view would be that getting too mono-focussed on the risks of one technology leads to poor and unbalanced decision making.

So we can likely largely to better, but ammonia is so incredibly much better than what we are up to at the moment, that undue obstacles should not be put in its way.

Roger Brown

To Lewis,

Thanks for pointing out the discussion about coppicing.

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