Tanker owner reveals how analyst helped forge methanol-to-hydrogen alliance

Sometimes it really is who you know, not what you know. Although in the case of Ardmore Shipping’s methanol-to-hydrogen joint venture e1 Marine, it was probably a bit of both.

Two years ago, the Ireland-based product tanker owner was “scratching its head” as it pondered the implications of clean technology for shipping.
So it turned to former Wells Fargo shipping analyst Mike Webber, now the head of Webber Research & Advisory.

Ardmore chief executive Anthony Gurnee says: “I always like to say Mike has the ability to see around corners. When he left Wells Fargo he got very involved in clean technology.”

As the shipowner developed its energy transition plan, it was relying on Webber for research and advice, and eventually engaged him to help identify partnerships, which led to Dave Edlund’s US technology company, Element 1.

Edlund says: “We had engaged with Mike in order to find strong partners in the heavy-duty transportation space at about the same time Mike and Ardmore were talking about clean-energy technology. Part of it was talking to the right people and asking the right questions, and part of it was good timing.”

A first demonstration by e1 Marine is due this year.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of interest coming in and several prospects that look quite serious at this point,” Edlund says.

Gurnee says there are already green methanol plants in operation, with many more planned or under construction.

Siemens, the European Union and ABB are aiming to put large green methanol facilities at the southern tip of Chile and Argentina to take advantage of the near-constant wind there.

“Hydrogen can be made there, but it is hard to transport, very expensive and has a very high carbon footprint when you transport it,” Gurnee cautions. “It’s impractical to make green hydrogen at remote locations and move it to where you need it.”

e1 Marine, which is soon to announce two or three hires, including a managing director, will have its own staff based in Vancouver, Canada. That has the advantage of being close to Element 1 in Oregon, as well as methanol producer Methanex and fuel cell maker Ballard Power Systems.
Gurnee adds: “There are a lot of interesting things happening in the Pacific North West.”

Meanwhile, Trafigura and MAN Energy have announced they are teaming up to produce an ammonia engine. “The perfect match for that ship would be to use the Element 1 system for the generators,” Gurnee adds.

However, he won’t be drawn on any contact with the group. “We have a lot of discussions going on, but it’s early days.”

blog5 Ardmore turns to the man who can ‘see round corners | e1 Marine - Getting Hydrogen to Work