Zero.63 long-range explorer catamaran brings methanol to yachting
Methanol has found some footing as an alternative fuel for commercial shipping, but it remains largely sidelined in other transportation sectors, including leisure watercraft. British design firm Chartwell Marine is looking to plot a new leisurely course for the fuel with help from a £320K (US$400K) government grant and a partnership with shipbuilder Archipelago Expedition Yachts. The parties will together develop the Zero.63, an eight-person catamaran that can travel thousands of miles while burning only methanol, a cleaner combustion alternative to diesel or gas.
Chartwell describes itself as a pioneer in next-generation marine vessel design, and its portfolio spans various segments, from commercial, to leisure, to offshore wind support. It was awarded the £320,000 Innovate UK Smart Grant with the purpose of applying methanol propulsion technology to a new type of vessel. It chose to renew its preexisting relationship with Archipelago in developing a methanol leisure yacht.
Chartwell and Archipelago see methanol boats as a natural alternative to battery-powered electric vessels with severely limited range. While methanol packs less than half the energy density of marine diesel oil (MDO), it offers far better density than batteries, giving the Zero.63 oceangoing capability and an estimated range of 2,000+ nautical miles (3,700+ km).
As a liquid at ambient temperatures, methanol is also fairly easy to store and distribute as a marine fuel. Archipelago says it's available via tanker delivery to major ports and the company believes methanol bunkering will become more commonplace as the commercial marine industry continues to expand decarbonization efforts.
"For this project, we wanted to cut through some of the noise being made about electric and hydrogen propulsion, which we feel simply aren’t ready for practical implementation on leisure craft," Dr. Stephen Weatherley, Archipelago's managing director, explained in an announcement earlier this month. "Methanol is the alternative fuel that ticks all the boxes for us as a sustainable, practical and adventurous company, and we’re proud to have it at the heart of our newest offering to the market."
The Zero.63 will use methanol two different ways. Twin Enmar direct-injection methanol engines will drive the boat, while a methanol-to-hydrogen fuel cell system will power house loads. A dedicated "methanol room" will house up to 300 kW worth of fuel cell power, along with batteries. Plans also call for a 431-sq-ft (40-sq-m) solar charging array on the roof.
An evolution of Archipelago's 47 catamaran, the new 63-footer (19-m) floats atop dual aluminum hulls. The elevated wet deck is designed to eliminate wave slamming in high seas and deliver smoother, nimbler navigation. The Zero.63 will be capable of a top speed of 18 knots (33 km/h).
The "Zero" part of the name and developer claims of "zero-carbon" propulsion could prove a bit misleading and demand a little qualification. Methanol does indeed burn cleaner than traditional fuels like marine diesel, with lower CO2, particulate, nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions. However, methanol continues to be sourced primarily from natural gas, which can spike its lifecycle emissions higher than traditional marine fuels.
Methanol sourced from renewables, such as agricultural and forestry waste, can flip those numbers dramatically in favor of methanol, but without any mention of a bio-methanol supply partner, it seems likely Zero.63 owners will be sourcing what's most readily available and cost-effective – natural gas-sourced methanol. But perhaps, driven by a deep-seated need for full, unassailable praise of their green yachting values, Zero.63 owners will go through the trouble of sourcing greener methanol.
That said, the Zero.63 is meant to be more of a proof-of-concept and early experiment in potential alternative marine applications for methanol than it is an immediate and groundbreaking revolution in green yachting. And it could lay the groundwork for a cleaner class of methanol-fueled long-distance explorer yacht should a renewable-focused methanol production ecosystem grow. Or, it could proceed as little more than a niche experimental vehicle, a Gumpert Nathalie for the high seas.
"We see the Archipelago Zero.63 as not only a complete market-first offering in its own right but also as the perfect proof-of-concept for a future application of methanol propulsion technology in the offshore wind vessel sector," Chartwell director Andy Page added.
Pricing has not yet been announced, but the £1.2-million (approx. US$1.5-million) 2023 base price of the smaller Archipelago 47 gives an idea of the ballpark in which buyers will be playing. For those not ready to go all-in on methanol, Archipelago will also offer the 63-footer with a diesel powertrain.