eMethanol solution to low-carbon transportation?

Rating: Advanced high school and post-secondary.

Summary: Markham interviews Claes Fredriksson, founder of Liquid Wind, a Swedish company that uses captured CO2 and hydrogen created using wind power to make eMethanol, an emission-less liquid fuel that could replace diesel in freight transportation and marine shipping.

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Markham Hislop: Canada has been blending ethanol in its gasoline for decades to reduce emissions. And the problem there is that it’s made from plants, often corn and that’s problematic. But a company in Sweden liquid wind has come up with a way to make methanol, which is close chemically, as a liquid fuel and zero emissions. So we’re going to talk to Claus Fredrickson, the founder. Welcome to the interview Claes.

Claes Fredriksson: Thanks very much nice to be here.

Markham Hislop: Why don’t you give us an overview of what your company does and why it’s important?

Claes Fredriksson: So our company has as its business to be a developer of facilities that will produce fuel. And so what I mean by that is that we put together all the bits and pieces to actually build a factory, get the financing to get that factory-built, build the factory, and then supply the fuel. Now in the process, because we use project financing as a means to get funded, we actually sell the fuel upfront to a large off-taker who will take the entire capacity for the fuel to the entire capacity of the plant fuel and use that or buy that for something like five to 10 years. That’s part of the financing. We make sure factories get built.

We do it in Sweden first. We will build the first one starting from next year, and we want to do it globally as we get better and smarter and better at supporting others who also want to build plants.

Markham Hislop: Let’s talk about methanol as a fuel. Will methanol be used like ethanol as a blend with gasoline or diesel, or are we talking about big trucks running on 100 per cent methanol?

Claes Fredriksson: It can definitely be both. The blend part is the easy part. We can blend in five, 10, 15, even up to 25 per cent methanol in gasoline. That’s what they do already today in China and Italy, which are two markets that are far down that road.

The other way of doing it is to go 100 per cent or in reality, maybe 97 per cent methanol and then have an ignition enhancer for the last few per cent and use it in a diesel cycle. So you then have a slightly different type of engine. We can do either one and we can do it inland transportation, as I think what you’re alluding to, or we can do it in, in marine transportation on large ships as well.

Markham Hislop: You mentioned a couple – long haul freight trucking and marine shipping – are two of the most problematic industries to decarbonize and to get down to net-zero emissions. So how help me understand this Claes, do the engines and all of the components like fuel pumps and so on, do they have to be specially made to run on 97 per cent methanol? Or is it just a straight switch?

Claes Fredriksson: It’s somewhere in between. It’s not a straight switch, but it’s pretty close. We work a lot with Scania, one of the big truck manufacturers. We actually buy their engines and then we modify them so that we can use them on smaller tank ships. It’s a control system issue. It’s a compression ratio issue and it might be something to do with where the gaskets and fittings need to stand up to the slightly higher corrosion of methanol. At the physical engine block and all the hardware pieces are all the same. So a modification, but not a major one, especially not if you’re doing it in the factory, then we’re talking within three to 5 per cent maybe of a cost premium to use this kind of engine.

Now, if you do that, however, you have a cost reduction on your exhaust cleanup systems, the SCRs and so on are pretty big things you’d have to bulk onto engines to reduce the NOx or SOx level by using methanol. All that part is avoided. We get the same quality emissions as those guys do when they use the emission cleanup system.

Markham Hislop: Well, let’s talk for a minute about how you make methanol, because the idea of using hydrogen and captured CO2. So where do you get the hydrogen from and where do you get the CO2 from?

Claes Fredriksson: The hydrogen we make, splitting water by using renewable additional electricity. Additional electricity means that when we get to build a plant, we will also make sure that a wind farm gets built. So we now have new, renewable electricity that splits the water to make us the hydrogen. And when we split the water, we get hydrogen and oxygen, and then we take the hydrogen, combine it with the CO2 that we take from a point source or one location where you have a lot of it like a pulp mill, and we prefer to use the biogenic CO2. So the one that comes from wood or an organic source and pulp mills and plants that run on wood pellets like you do in Canada, would be places to source that CO2.

We basically bolt the hydrogen and the CO2 together and when you do that, you actually get liquid methanol out of it, which I always find so fascinating. You put one gas together with another gas and then it becomes a liquid.

Markham Hislop: What is preventing countries like Sweden or Canada from adopting methanol, as you know, sort of as a diesel replacement, because everyone’s complaining about the emissions from transportation, particularly from long haul trucking, which is difficult to electrify. Why aren’t we moving quicker on that?

Claes Fredriksson: Because we, we need to move in sync with renewable energy costs. The cost of renewable energy we have just now and the equipment cost that we are dealing with it all coming down rapidly, but it’s only just now that we can produce renewable methanol that is almost as expensive, but it is a little bit more expensive, at least as a biofuel. And in five years time, that will be much better. And we will have much more capacity.

I would say by 2030, when we are looking at fossil fuel parity, then it would be possible to say, “okay, now we can actually get the fuel that we can make the fuel in the market.” We can now start to force out the diesel or the marine gas oil or whatever the alternatives are, but it’s too early because we just, we don’t have anything.

And then, then the cars would stop. The system would sort of not function. So we need to take this in bits and pieces. But of course, any anyone who’s out there in the European Union or in other places wanting to help us accelerate can do that by making sure that we can move a little quicker. I mean, for us, it’s taken quite a while to get our funding. We could have saved a year if somebody said, “you know, this is a really good idea.” But I guess it’s part of growing up somehow, it’s part of the transition.

Markham Hislop: Well, we see that all the time. There all kinds of technologies that are just becoming economic and as I’m fond of saying, for that reason, the 2020s is going to be a very disruptive decade because we’ll see things like methanol begin to push out fossil fuels and begin to transform how we fuel transportation and housing and industry and so on. Well, thank you very much, Claes. Really appreciate this and good luck with your company.

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