Nautical Expert

Motorboat magazine

Methanol promises to be a greener fuel for yachts, but there are some problems

Disadvantages of methanol for use on yachts

Updated on May 19th, 2024

The modern world is in an ongoing process of searching for solutions to reduce environmental impacts. The motor yacht industry is one of the best testing grounds for engineers to experiment with different types of energy carriers and their combinations.

Methanol today is one of the discussed types of fuel, which has already reached the point of being used in semi-custom and even production boats. However, it would be a mistake to think that methanol is an ideal replacement for traditional fossil fuels such as gasoline or diesel. This is far from true. There is a possibility that methanol could be a temporary alternative for hybrid yachts in the coming years, but it is definitely not a long-term solution.

Methanol has some practical and environmental advantages, but it also has many significant disadvantages that will likely prevent it from becoming a mainstream all-purpose fuel. And while the shipping industry already has order books for new methanol-fueled cargo ships over the next decade, we are hard-pressed to see its widespread adoption in the yachting sector of the future.

One of the disadvantages of methanol is its low energy intensity. To compensate for hydrocarbon fuel without losing range, the fuel tanks will have to be increased by 2.5 times. Obviously, one of the solutions in this case could be the parallel installation of an electric motor complete with hydrogen elements.

Another problem may be more expensive engine maintenance due to the hygroscopicity of methanol and its aggressiveness towards parts. The hoses and various seals used today in internal combustion engines are not resistant to alcohol and are weakened by prolonged exposure, which means that new types of materials must be used.

To top it all off, methanol is highly toxic, explosive, burns with an invisible flame, and is more expensive per unit of energy than diesel or gasoline. And yes, it is not a green fuel. When fully analyzed, from production to use, it turns out that this is a very inefficient and far from environmentally friendly type of fuel.

Hydrogen fuel cells seem more promising to us, if only because this is still a fairly large field for new experiments and a fundamental departure from extremely complex internal combustion engines. In this case, methanol can be used as a source of hydrogen. This is the path taken by Archipelago Yachts in collaboration with Chartwell Marine.

Archipelago Catamaran Zero 63 Propulsion System

This line of aluminum catamarans will soon be expanded with the new Zero.63 model, which will likely be the first yacht in the world to run on this type of fuel, but not by burning it directly, but by converting it into hydrogen through reforming. At the same time, the backup possibility of using an internal combustion engine running on ethanol remains.