Chris Chatterton: Fuelling the future

The Methanol Institute is constantly pushing for a brighter and greener future in collaboration with its association members and stakeholders, shares chief operating officer Chris Chatterton

How far has renewable resources and sustainability come in the past five years?
The supply of renewable, as well as carbon neutral and lower carbon methanol, have grown exponentially over the past five years – from small pilot projects to almost three million metric tonnes per annum forecast to be online by 2024.

How does Methanol Institute (MI) play into this and what do you think is MI’s role in this future that we are building?
MI supports the development of such capacity in an end-to-end fashion, across the entire value chain, from conceptualisation to commissioning and scaling to sales. This role will be maintained over the near term as the industry begins to address decarbonisation at scale. This is because methanol literally has thousands of uses as both petrochemical building block and as a fuel component.

Methanol, as the simplest alcohol molecule and a liquid at ambient temperature, requires less infrastructure investment to store or transport it to market, alongside any application, whether it is a car, bus, truck, boiler, cooking stove, etc. In this respect, hydrogen reforming technology and fuel cells are an area where we are working with our members to bring highly innovative solutions to transportation.

What are some of the challenges that have been thrown MI’s way?
We are challenged daily, but perhaps the main challenge is changing mindsets. We still spend considerable time educating and then advocating for innovative solutions to approaching decarbonisation and hence ‘compliance’ – in a market where policy has yet to be defined.

How are you working to overcome them?
We work closely with regulatory agencies, analysts and leading global and local influencers to ensure greater awareness, transparency, and economic viability through a science-based approach and sometimes, just to not forget ‘why’ we are all doing this in the first place – for the environment and human health.

How did MI keep its members focused and engaged during the past two years of the pandemic?
As many organisations did, we went completely virtual. Our last board meeting, March 24, was held on a virtual platform, so we have not yet completely stepped away from online communication.

This has taught MI and its members a great deal about efficiency, coming together for the greater good and supporting our members and other key stakeholders where possible in an effort to lessen the burden on them.

The other factor in our favour is that the shipping and logistics industries in particular did not stop during the pandemic so the message around methanol as a clean, sustainable marine fuel continued to be made. I would say the pressure for action actually increased in the last 24 months and MI was able to contribute to the debate in a meaningful way.

How does speaking in events like Asia Pacific Maritime (APM) help to broaden the association’s reach?
Events like APM serve to widen MI’s network as interest grows in alternative fuels and solution-oriented technology. APM allows us to amplify our key messaging to let people know that we have such a solution and we can help. We are fortunate to be able to participate, present and share our insights with those who have established a need to understand more.

Associations rely on conferencing as a major source of income. Did MI obtain other sources of revenue during the pandemic?
We do not charge for our events and we are 100 per cent funded by membership dues. This means that we have zero commercial interests which allows us to completely focus on serving our members with high level expertise, knowledge and sustainable solutions to increasing trade flow.

This may be viewed by some as short-sighted, however it proves that MI’s members truly own the ‘sandbox’ and only the MI team are only allowed to play in it! MI was founded in 1989 and in 2021 we had an approximate 50 per cent uptake in new members – largely from the maritime sector.

Over the past two years we slashed our travel, G&A (general and administrative) expenses, introduced more digital tools, and increased our communications. At the same time, we gave back to our members with an option to pay reduced annual dues in 2021.

What support is available to companies that want to become more sustainable through renewable methanol?
There is considerable support available within our network for companies to become more sustainable – whether they are producers of renewable or bio methanol, or they are potential consumers.

We work extensively with others outside of our association, again to help shape policy, prove-up sustainable technical solutions which make economic sense and collaborate on solutions-oriented emissions reduction approaches.

How are you a different association today compared to pre-Covid?
Global supply chains proved resilient but there were shocks and this will continue. Going forward will require greater investment and digitalisation – especially so if we are to continue to grow and reduce emissions at the same time, while being better corporate citizens.

MI has evolved significantly since 2020. We are somewhat fortunate in that we are a relatively small but highly proficient team of about 12 people, so we are nimble, make decisions rapidly and are able to move into action faster than larger organisations. Covid has changed everyone – to the extent that many sectors may never go back to pre-Covid ways of doing business. MI has also made many adjustments which are already the norm and template for the future.

Recent events in Ukraine have taught us all again, that we easily forget about disruptive ‘black swan’ events, which are occurring with more frequency as a result of a highly networked global economy. Such disruptions cannot be projected in most cases, which is why organisations must place more emphasis on efficiency, and competitive advantage to maintain a keen sense of ‘lean’.

To quote Apple founder Steve Jobs: “stay hungry, stay foolish”. These are the places in time where the best ideation occurs, and organisations with the ability to capitalise on arising opportunities will emerge as the winners.

What are some of MI’s future plans?
This year, we registered an NGO office in China after many years of activity there, and plan to register an entity in India later this year.

We are also going deeper into the European Union (EU) from a policy perspective as the EU is really the core region globally developing maritime policy. As methanol is a very efficient carrier of hydrogen, we are getting increasingly involved in all forms of green hydrogen production, distribution and sales.

We have several studies currently being developed for the maritime industry which we will be releasing soon, and are looking at the aviation sector as well.