Port of Antwerp launches world’s first methanol-powered tugboat

On Tuesday, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges launched the first methanol-powered tugboat, a world premier. The Methatug, as the vehicle is called, is used by the port authorities to investigate the feasibility of methanol as a more sustainable fuel for shipping.

When methanol is produced from renewable sources, using biomass or renewably sourced hydrogen and carbon dioxide that is captured from the air, it is a so-called net-zero fuel despite the carbon dioxide emitted when burned.

However, methanol engines may require the addition of a small percentage of pilot fuel, resulting in carbon emissions. It can be used for both brand-new ships and retrofits because it is liquid under ambient conditions.

Hydrotug 1

In December, the Port of Antwerp introduced the Hydrotug 1, the first tugboat in the world to run on hydrogen. These experiments are important steps in the transition to a climate-neutral port by 2050.

For the Methatug, which was already announced in 2021, the engine of an existing tugboat was converted into a ‘dual fuel’ engine. In other words, the engine runs on a mixture of – provisionally ‘gray’ – methanol and traditional fuel.

‘Gray’ methanol

In the long term, the Methatug should be able to sail on cleaner fuels such as green or blue methanol. Because demand is still limited, the price of green methanol or hydrogen is approximately twice as high as that of the gray variant.

The ship is 30 meters long and can tow 50 tons. It can store 12,000 liters of methanol, enough for two weeks of tug work.

Fifth largest bunkering port

“This is a crucial step in our efforts to make our own fleet greener,” notes Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges. A major issue in the energy transition of shipping is the availability of green fuels and the associated infrastructure. “The port must play a leading role in this,” says Vandermeiren.

As the fifth largest bunkering port in the world, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges aims to become a fully-fledged ‘multi-fuel port’ where seagoing and inland vessels can bunker conventional fuels as well as but also alternative, low-carbon fuels, such as methanol, hydrogen, or electricity.

‘Fuel of the future’

The Methatug is part of the European Fastwater project, investigating methanol as a future fuel. Prof. Sebastian Verhelst, Project Coordinator Fastwater: “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 consortium partners, we can now take important steps with the Methatug to demonstrate its feasibility.”

Ghent University and the Belgian engine manufacturer Anglo Belgian Corporation, among others, were partners in building the ship. The development of the Methatug cost approximately 3.5 million euros, of which 1.6 million euros was financed with European money from the Green Horizon 2020 fund.

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