The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Wednesday, 06 December 2023 19:07

ORNL wants to leave watercraft carbon emissions in its wake

Caterpillar 4-stroke diesel engineThis Caterpillar in-line 6-cylinder marine diesel engine will be the subject of research and development for efficient, more climate-friendly marine propulsion with methanol fuel.  Genevieve Martin, ORNL/U.S. Dept. of Energy

OAK RIDGE — The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Caterpillar Inc. have entered into a cooperative research and development agreement to investigate methanol as an alternative fuel source for four-stroke internal combustion marine engines. The collaboration supports efforts to decarbonize the marine industry, a hard-to-electrify transportation sector.

As the U.S. continues to seek ways to reduce environmentally harmful greenhouse gas emissions, methanol is an attractive fuel alternative to diesel because it reduces carbon emissions. Methanol also reduces emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. In addition, methanol’s relatively high energy density makes it easier to store on marine vessels than gaseous fuels meaning it can be more easily integrated into overall existing engine design and operation.

Although methanol has many advantages, it is more difficult to ignite than diesel. Under the terms of the CRADA, ORNL researchers will work with Caterpillar over the next few years to identify, develop and test hardware configurations and operating strategies required to maximize use of methanol in engines retrofitted for methanol.

Research will be conducted on Caterpillar’s in-line 6-cylinder marine engine that has been modified for methanol use and installed at DOE’s National Transportation Research Center at ORNL. New engine designs will also be considered, and several engine combustion strategies will be explored including dual-fuel, dimethyl ether reforming and spark-ignited prechambers. Caterpillar will support ORNL by providing additional materials and research expertise to enable engine performance, efficiency and durability while reducing GHG and other emissions.