Houlder showcases innovative methanol bunkering vessel design in SPINE project


Houlder, the design and engineering consultancy with sustainability at its core, is pleased to announce significant progress in its involvement in the SPINE project, with the design of a 10,000 cbm methanol bunkering vessel.

The SPINE project, supported by MarRI-UK under the Smart Maritime Land Operations Call, brings together a consortium of organisations, led by MSE International, focusing on energy and autonomy in the maritime industry. The project aims to establish an interface between ships, remote control centres, port operating systems, and national energy infrastructure to address challenges in maritime decarbonisation and autonomy. By integrating key elements of UK government policy, SPINE contributes to the realisation of Maritime 2050 objectives.

The methanol bunkering vessel design includes semi-automated crane systems for supplying methanol to other ships of a wide size range, including cruise and large container vessels. This design represents a key milestone in the development of methanol infrastructure and a strategic step towards wider alternative fuel bunkering in maritime decarbonisation.

“Entering the SPINE project, Houlder aimed to expand its influence in the research and development activities around alternative fuels,” said Arun Pillai, Project Director at Houlder. “Completion of this design project involved detailed analyses to ensure compliance with stringent regulations governing methanol as both fuel and cargo, reaffirming Houlder’s expertise in this area.”

In addressing the challenges around space during the vessel design process, Houlder navigated complex constraints to optimise the vessel’s layout for maximum efficiency and compliance. The use of methanol as both cargo and fuel presented unique spatial considerations, given its lower density compared to conventional fuels, the different regulatory requirements concerning storage and use as cargo or fuel, and associated handling spaces. Houlder’s design team explored allocated space within the hull to balance these requirements within a vessel that is of comparable size to existing small tankers, while adhering to strict safety regulations.

The placement options for propulsion fuel tanks and other critical spaces were thoroughly reviewed to ensure operational effectiveness without compromising safety, performance and vessel size. Electric powertrain architecture was also incorporated, allowing for future upgrades to fuel cell technology, and providing environmental benefits with respect to reduced noise. This meticulous approach underscores Houlder’s commitment to overcoming spatial challenges inherent in adopting alternative fuels within the maritime industry, while retaining ready flexibility for evolution that provides an owner with reassurance against the perceived and actual uncertainty of some alternative fuel technology development.

To optimise vessel efficiency, the Houlder team utilised the latest digital twin technology to create a virtual world. This can be leveraged to analyse adjustments to existing ship operations, to design brand new vessels, or to outline various ways to save fuel and cut associated GHG emissions on specific voyages or across all operations. Innovative Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) were deployed within this process to consider various solutions such as twin propeller configurations and bulbous bow designs. The impact of a minimal ballast philosophy on the design was also assessed – the propeller size and subsequent propulsive power requirements, for example. These tools allowed Houlder to analyse the trade-off between propeller size and number against fuel efficiency in both full load and ballast conditions across a range of different operating profiles. As a result, numerous design variants exist, ready to be optimally balanced for OPEX and CAPEX for particular operating routes, and taking owner preferences into account.

The project’s success positions Houlder as a technology-agnostic consultancy capable of overcoming design challenges posed by emerging alternative fuels. Houlder’s extensive expertise in maritime engineering and its commitment to sustainability underscore its readiness to lead in the development of next-generation vessels.

“We are pleased with the outcome of this concept design project, and Houlder looks forward to engaging with additional stakeholders interested in advancing methanol bunkering and exploring further opportunities in alternative fuel and efficient vessel design,” Arun concluded.

Houlder supports its clients throughout projects, often starting with sustainability advisory services, and then moving through to implementation phases using its design and engineering expertise.