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Methanol project might pave the way for a carbon-neutral fishing industry

The Danish fishing industry is facing large climate taxes to contribute to the green transition. A new pilot project will now identify the possibilities of converting existing fishing vessels into carbon-neutral methanol-operated vessels.

Henrik Nielsen from Foreningen Muslingeerhvervet (left), Henrik Amdisen from Hanstholm Fiskeriforening and Associate Professor Jens Brusgaard Vestergaard (right) from Aarhus University in front of the fishing vessel M/S Limfjorden which will be converted into pure methanol operation. Photo: Aarhus University, Anders Trærup

Methanol could be the carbon-neutral alternative to the diesel that fuels fishing vessels today. The use of methanol as fuel is developing rapidly, and in September 2023, the Danish container shipping company Maersk launched a new era for global shipping with the world's first methanol-operated containership.

A new development project, which has received DKK 10.1 million (EUR 1.4 million) from the EU and the Danish Fisheries Agency, will now explore whether the fishing industry can follow the same path. This is the message from Associate Professor Jens Brusgaard Vestergaard from Aarhus University's Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering, who is heading the project called Methanol in the Fishing Industry.

"The fishing industry is under pressure from the green transition, and the industry has already implemented measures to reduce carbon emissions. The next step is the engine and the fuel, where we really see an opportunity to reduce the industry's climate footprint, and this is why we’re launching this project that has the potential to reduce emissions from fisheries significantly," he says and continues:

"The time is right, because if the shipping industry stakes everything on methanol, developments will get moving. This will create a large-scale infrastructure for green methanol that ensures security of supply and a realistic alternative to diesel in terms of price. Therefore, now is the time to step up a gear to show that existing fishing vessels can be converted into carbon-neutral methanol-operated vessels, so that we aren’t suddenly faced with having to pay high taxes that could have been avoided."

New taxes and export opportunities

Already from 2025, the fishing industry will be facing high carbon taxes following the tax reform agreed between the Danish government and other political parties back in 2022.

According to the Danish Pelagic Producers Organisation (DPPO), the agreement means that the industry will be subject to taxes of up to DKK 900 million in the period 2025 to 2030. That is why it is urgent to develop competitive alternatives to the diesel that fuels fishing vessel today, and which – most importantly – are cost-effective and can be used by existing vessels without compromising on operations and safety.

The maritime industry association, Danish Maritime, is looking forward to contributing, says Technical Director Valdemar Ehlers:

"The maritime industry in Denmark develops technologies for a broad spectrum of vessel types, and we appreciate being able to contribute technology and knowledge to a project like this. It’s very exciting and important to ensure a good and future-proof green transition of Danish fisheries. We’re already providing new sustainable solutions to this industry and are in close dialogue with them regarding future vessels. A development project like this can also be an export potential for Denmark, because this is a global challenge. Across oceans, developments are going fast, and Danish solutions often make a difference in achieving common goals," he says.

He is backed by the chairperson of the Danish shellfish association Foreningen Muslingeerhvervet, Henrik Nielsen:

"The fishing industry depends on healthy oceans to ensure a sustainable industry in the future. At the same time, we already supply products with a very low carbon footprint compared to other animal foods. But we want to do even better here in Denmark by taking the lead in the green transition," he says.

Energy density causes challenges

One of the major challenges for operating purely on methanol is the energy content of the fuel. Green methanol contains only about half as much energy per kilogram as diesel, which means that vessels must bring twice as much fuel for the same operating period

Space for so much extra fuel calls for creative solutions:

"We have to find space, even though there is none," says Jens Brusgaard Vestergaard and elaborates:

"This is definitely the big hurdle in this project. The methanol engine is already an off-the-shelf product, but everything has to fit into a vessel and work as efficiently as diesel does today, with pumps, systems, etc. So, we need to look at ballast tanks and other areas to find out where we can make room for the extra fuel that is required.”

Valdemar Ehlers agrees with him:

"The ship designers will have to reconsider the design of the vessel and find new and innovative solutions. Operating on a fuel with completely different properties than those of diesel requires changes in many areas. The alternative fuel has other properties e.g. different viscosity, heating value, flash point consequently fire and safety aspects must be dealt with in a different way.  Not only the propulsion system, but also pumps, tank systems and piping systems must be suitable for methanol, and the safety conditions on the vessel must comply with all regulatory requirements. Fishing vessels consume significant amounts of energy. There are many processes on board a vessel: cooling systems, lighting, air conditioning, automatic sorting processes, freshwater generators, winches that pull in nets, etc. There’s a constant need for energy from the engine, and therefore it’s very important that all energy-consuming systems on board are optimised and made more energy-efficient, so that the tank has enough capacity for the energy required by the vessel's various systems during the entire operating period."

Quick solutions for small players

The pilot project will be tested specifically on the fishing vessel M/S Limfjorden, which is a medium-sized vessel of approximately 350 HP. This vessel is representative of the majority of the Danish fishing fleet and will be converted into pure methanol operation.

The conversion includes new fuel tanks and fuel pipes, larger tanks and various measures to reduce the risk of explosion. Before the conversion, however, it must be determined which requirements the Danish Maritime Authority will impose on a vessel converted into methanol operation. In addition to a complete conversion of M/S Limfjorden, the project includes an analysis of the availability of green methanol and expected price developments, a study of the cost-effectiveness of conversion up to 2030, as well as emissions and total carbon impact estimates.

The vessel will be made available by Foreningen Muslingeerhvervet, which sees the cost-effectiveness study as the major focal point of the project:

"The fishing industry – and especially the small players – does not have much time to make the changes needed for the green transition, and we’re already behind. We’re constantly under pressure from taxes, and it’s difficult to finance a sustainable development of vessels if we can only look one season ahead at a time. It’s difficult to switch from diesel to methanol, and I’m sure that there’ll be plenty of expensive lessons to learn, because this is an area with many pitfalls. But if we succeed with this project, we can prove that it can be done, and we really want to show the way for the entire fishing industry and demonstrate that we can make a profit as well," says Henrik Nielsen.

The project, Methanol in the Fishing Industry, was launched in January 2024. The project partners are: Aquamind, OSK Design, OK Energy Solutions, Foreningen Muslingeerhvervet, Hanstholm Fiskeriforening, Danish Maritime and Aarhus University. The project is being headed by the Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering at Aarhus University. The project has received funding of DKK 10.1 million from the EU via the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) and the Danish Fisheries Agency.


Associate Professor Jens Brusgaard Vestergaard
Aarhus University, Department of Mechanical and Production Engineering
Mail: jbv@mpe.au.dk
Tel.: +45 41893162