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CMA CGM orders six methanol-fuelled box ships

Competing container line Maersk was the first to embrace methanol as future fuel, with orders for 16 box ships on order in South Korea since last November

French container line, which has previously embraced LNG as transition fuel, now says its strategy to diversify energy sources for future vessels is behind its order for six dual-fuelled 16,000 teu ships

CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest container line, has revealed orders for six 15,000 teu dual-fuel methanol boxships, six months after a key executive overseeing the company’s energy transition described the fuel as presenting “a number of disadvantages”.

The French line joins competitor Maersk Line as among the first in the sector to embrace the use of e-methanol — produced from hydrogen and carbon dioxide using renewable sources — by ordering vessels capable of using the alternative fuel.

Maersk said last August it has ordered eight 16,000 dual-fuel methanol vessels worth $1.4bn, and then exercised an option to build a further four earlier this year.

Last November, CMA CGM’s vice-president of bunkering and energy transition Farid Trad described e-methanol as “an interesting molecule” but said that it had a “number of disadvantages”.

These included “loss of volume, as it was less energy efficient, no existing large-scale distribution network for the time being, and average toxicity”, Mr Trad said in a posting on the company’s website.

Six months later the company has decided to “diversify the energy sources for our future vessels”, chairman and chief executive Rodolphe Saadé said in a statement announcing first quarter results on May 3.

“CMA CGM is thus accelerating its decarbonisation trajectory by investing massively in gas and methanol fuels. 

The two sectors will be complementary for decarbonising shipping industry in the years to come.”

Privately held CMA CGM was among the first to embrace another fossil fuel, liquefied natural gas, as its preferred transition fuel to help meet a decarbonisation goal of “net zero carbon by 2050”.

LNG-powered vessels are said to emit as much as 20% less carbon dioxide but this depends on the engine type and claims are contested.

The six methanol-powered vessels and orders for 10 dual-fuel LNG-powered ships also announced on May 3 take CMA CGM’s total newbuilding orders to 69, the company said.

CMA CGM already has 29 LNG-powered vessels in service and will have 77 by 2026, according to the first-quarter statement. This suggests that 48 of the 69 ships on order will be powered by LNG and six by methanol, with the propulsion technology for a further 15 not identified.

Class society DNV said there are 21 containerships either in operation or on order to use methanol as an alternative fuel. Twelve are known to be with Maersk and now six with CMA CGM.

All together there are 52 methanol powered ships either on order or in service through the global shipping fleet, according to DNV’s most recent monthly Alternative Fuels Insight.

Asia-based shipping line Ocean Network Express said on May 31 that five of its very large containerships on order would be configured as either ammonia or methanol-ready.

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