Future fuel: Green Methanol or Ammonia?

Two shipping brokers, differing views on the future fuel
Gibson’s offer their take on Green Methanol

Intermodal offers their take on Ammonia

Separate, but two Ammonia-related, news items from shipping companies
The larger size Ammonia carrier has up-to-now been a specialized mid-size tanker of 40,000 CBMs.

  1. Shipping entity Avance Gas was supposed to take delivery of two new Very Large Gas Carriers (VLGCs) that would factory-delivered Ammonia fueled (one of two fuels) as well as Ammonia-as-cargo capable. Avance Gas will not be owning those vessels. A third party wanted both vessels so desperately, they paid Avance Gas a premium to acquire both vessels upon delivery (H1 2024)

  2. Peer VLGC shipping entity Dorian LPG (LPG) announced their quarterly results about two weeks ago. In their earnings call, company management announced plans to convert some of their VLGCs to be Ammonia-load capable

Times are a-changing!


Both methanol and ammonia are usually made from natural gas. They can be made from green hydrogen (and for methanol captured carbon dioxide). Green hydrogen requires green energy and usually costs more. They are both commodity and can be swapped to supply round the globe once plants are built.

Methanol is toxic if you drink it and flammable but not usually a problem. High oxygen content means fuel value is about half that of say diesel fuel.

Ammonia is not difficult to store. Properties like propane. Is liquid under moderate pressure. Toxic vapors but unlikely to kill unless you can’t escape. That happened in a recent accident in Illinois where ammonia tank was punctured and people were trapped in vehicles.


Both can be said of gasoline. On the other hand, you can’t see methanol burning, as crash crews at Indy will tell you. Methanol is also very corrosive, more corrosive than ethanol. Ethanol use in gasoline has forced automakers to go to stainless steel fuel system components due to the corrosion.



Stainless steel is an easy solution but i suspect that coatings and liners could be used with mild steel. This is very common practice in industry.

Start thinking about all the pipelines. iirc, ethanol is only moved by truck or train, because it’s too corrosive for existing pipelines. Methanol is worse.


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Other fuels are being considered, too.

From the link:
The reactor to be jointly developed centres around TerraPower’s Molten Chloride Fast Reactor (MCFR) design. The technology uses molten chloride salt as both reactor coolant and fuel, allowing for so-called fast spectrum operation which the company says makes the fission reaction more efficient. It operates at higher temperatures than conventional reactors, generating electricity more efficiently, and also offers potential for process heat applications and thermal storage. An iteration of the MCFR - known as the m-MSR - intended for marine use is being developed by TerraPower.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

The molten fuel fission reactor concept has the potential to radically change the way nuclear plants operate. There are no currently existing nuclear plants that run on molten fuel. Even though there are several advantages to the concept, there are also several engineering challenges that will make development difficult.

If they are going to start building nuclear powered cargo ships, I would rather see the first ships with more conventional light water technology, such as those used in the existing Russian icebreaker fleet.

  • Pete

Of course you are talking about motor fuels used across the US. Here we are talking about fuels used in ocean shipping. I think the pipelines involved are much shorter. And plants may be located nearby making long distance pipelines less important.


@pauleckler _ Thanks for fuel inputs thought.

Just an observation - if Ammonia as a product already has port network established, then it probably isn’t as complicated to expand some of those facilities to handle larger capacity. And one could target the ports that take-in or load large container vessels.

Ammonia is widely used as a fertilizer. The distribution network probably takes it everywhere.

There is an ammonia pipeline.


It mostly carries ammonia made from natural gas on the Gulf Coast to the agricultural midwest. But ammonia is probably available throughout the US.


“It mostly carries ammonia made from natural gas on the Gulf Coast to the agricultural midwest. But ammonia is probably available throughout the US.”

Right. But if the plans are to use Ammonia as a fuel for ships, that network needs to extend to ports and/or deeper enough water nearby to fuel the vessels. Since US LPG shipments are mainly out of the Gulf, that area would seem to be covered. But, if the mega-container vessels are offloading in New York, Charleston and Los Angeles-Long Beach, those ports and/or waters nearby would need to have fueling/re-fueling options for the vessels.

Ammonia made from natural gas centers on the Gulf Coast. But ammonia made from green energy can be anywhere you have it. New plants near ports are implied in the long run. The distribution concern is in the meantime.

Yes, a consideration but solvable if ammonia is the right solution.

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Ammonia combustion generates nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas that is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It also emits nitrogen in the form of nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2, referred to as NOx), and unburnt ammonia may slip out, which eventually forms fine particulate matter in the atmosphere. These tiny particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing health problems like heart attacks, strokes, and asthma.



Ammonia is made by reaction of hydrogen with nitrogen in the presence of a catalyst. The reaction is reversible. Should be possible to convert to hydrogen and nitrogen when needed. That avoids the nitrogen oxides problem.


But, can that reversible mechanism be installed within tighter parameters on a vessel? At least, some of the DF vessels I’ve seen, have the fuel tanks built on the vessel decks. The vessel in the image below is an LNG- version of dual fuel

My guess is the Ammonia tanks would be installed in a similar position on the vessel.

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Ammonia is about like propane in storage requirements. Liquid at room temp under moderate pressure. Can easily be stored in LNG containers.

If I were designing the system, when hydrogen is required, I would send the ammonia vapors through a catalyst bed on its way to the engine. Switching to hydrogen fuel might be click of a switch but probably requires different air ratio. Modified carburetor required.