Rolls-Royce and Sanlorenzo team up for methanol propulsion in luxury yachts

Posted on September 06, 2022

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  • Green methanol fuel to make shipping net zero
  • “Making for a radically different yacht-owning experience”
  • Trend reversal: “In many cases, engine power output will no longer be the sole yardstick”

Rolls-Royce and Italian yacht builder Sanlorenzo plan to develop and build a large motor yacht with a methanol engine propulsion system able to run carbon-neutrally on 'green' methanol. The two companies announced an exclusive memorandum of understanding to this effect for yachts between 40 and 70 meters on the eve of the opening of the 2022 Cannes Yachting Festival. Powered by two mtu methanol engines based on the Series 4000, the Sanlorenzo yacht is expected to undertake her maiden voyage in 2026.  

“We're making shipping more environmentally friendly and easier on the climate, and this agreement is a big step forward in the right direction,” said Denise Kurtulus, Vice President of Global Marine at Rolls-Royce Power Systems: “Synthetic methanol, produced using electricity generated from renewable sources, is the obvious fuel of the future for many maritime applications – not least yacht propulsion.” This is because methanol is a liquid which is easy to manage, and people are already used to handling it because it is already available in ports today. “Sanlorenzo is one of the most innovative yacht builders, making it our partner of choice for this project,” she added.  

Massimo Perotti, Executive Chairman and CEO of Sanlorenzo, said: “The introduction of innovations and technologies to reduce the environmental impact of yachts has long been the focus of the Group's research and development department. The subscription of the agreement with Rolls-Royce and its brand mtu for the integration of methanol propulsion systems   on our superyachts represents for our Group a memorable moment, because it gives an extraordinary acceleration to our responsible path and widens our horizons: thanks to the marine use of methanol as a fuel for combustion engines, which allows carbon-neutral powerful propulsion,   Sanlorenzo will be able to give the true answer to the demand for sustainability in the yachting sector. I thank Rolls-Royce for choosing Sanlorenzo as a partner for the joint development of a technology that is going to change the paradigm of the yachting industry.”

Green methanol is climate-friendly and carbon-neutral because it is produced using solar or wind power: The first stage is to take hydrogen and synthesize it into methanol (CH3HO) using carbon and oxygen from the air. Carbon in the form of CO2 is released into the air during combustion – but no more than was taken from it during production of the fuel. As a result, the cycle is carbon-neutral. “This sees us creating a radically different yacht-owning experience”, said Kurtulus. Emissions of particulate and nitrogen oxides are also much lower than from diesel engines, making it possible to stay within NOx limits without an SCR unit treating the exhaust gases.  

The methanol engine, which is expected to be spark ignited, will be based on the winning mtu Series 4000. “Our many years of experience and our extensive expertise in mobile and stationary gas engines will give us a head start in development,” said Dr. Otto Preiss, COO and Chief Technology Officer at Rolls-Royce's Power Systems division. “We will have methanol-powered propulsion systems in our portfolio for other maritime applications as well as yachts, for example for commercial shipping. These will be part of our ecosystem with sustainable fuels, that we’re currently building. The ecosystem will also include fuel-cell-powered applications as well as electrolysis of green hydrogen, the basic ingredient for green methanol,” Preiss continued.

“We're pleased to see Italian yards, which figure prominently in the yacht market, showing a keen interest in sustainable technology. This collaboration with Sanlorenzo demonstrates that the Italian yacht building industry is taking a leading role in climate and environmental protection,” emphasizes Gianluca Bononi. He is deputy head of the Power Systems marine business unit and Managing Director of Rolls-Royce Solutions Italia based in La Spezia on the Ligurian coast, the heart of the Italian yacht building industry.

The plan is to build a large Sanlorenzo luxury yacht tailored to the new type of propulsion system and its requirements. The two partners regard the additional effort as challenging but feasible: because methanol's energy density is around 50% below that of diesel, the fuel tanks need to be about twice as big to give the vessel the same range as with diesel propulsion. Safety requirements happen to be potentially lower than with other fuels and technologies – because methanol is non-toxic. “From an engineering perspective, a methanol engine is technically the ideal compromise for the future,” said Denise Kurtulus with conviction.  

As a rule of thumb, developers expect the power output of a methanol propulsion system to be about one-third less than that of a diesel system of the same size and mass. “In reality, that isn't terribly important,” said Kurtulus. “This is because larger, heavier engines are more likely to be installed in large yachts of 40 to 50 meters in length than in smaller vessels, and yacht owners who want to be climate-friendly and go easy on the environment aren't generally looking to wring out the last ounce of power. We're seeing a trend reversal in the market. In many cases, engine power output in and of itself will no longer be the yardstick. Instead, there will be more and more customers who want to do their bit to protect the climate and now we can also offer them a solution, too,” concluded Ms. Kurtulus.

In parallel with the Cannes Yachting Festival, Rolls-Royce will be presenting new mtu marine propulsion, automation and service solutions – including methanol engines and fuel cell systems – under the slogan 'Pioneering the journey to net zero' at SMM, the international maritime industry trade show, in Hamburg, Germany, from 6 to 9 September 2022.  

About Rolls-Royce Holdings plc

  1. Rolls-Royce pioneers the power that matters to connect, power and protect society. We have pledged to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations by 2030 (excluding product testing) and joined the UN Race to Zero campaign in 2020, affirming our ambition to play a fundamental role in enabling the sectors in which we operate achieve net zero carbon by 2050.
  2. Rolls-Royce Power Systems is headquartered in Friedrichshafen in southern Germany and employs around 9,000 people. The product portfolio includes mtu-brand high-speed engines and propulsion systems for ships, power generation, heavy land, rail and defence vehicles and for the oil and gas industry as well as diesel and gas systems and battery containers for mission critical, standby and continuous power, combined generation of heat and power, and microgrids and is intensively engaged in the development of climate-neutral solutions.  
  3. Rolls-Royce has customers in more than 150 countries, comprising more than 400 airlines and leasing customers, 160 armed forces and navies, and more than 5,000 power and nuclear customers.
  4. Annual underlying revenue was £10.95 billion in 2021, underlying operating profit was £414m and we invested £1.18 billion on research and development. We also support a global network of 28 University Technology Centres, which position Rolls-Royce engineers at the forefront of scientific research.  
  5. Rolls-Royce Holdings plc is a publicly traded company (LSE:RR., ADR: RYCEY, LEI: 213800EC7997ZBLZJH69).


Wolfgang Boller Spokesman Regional and Business Media
+49 7541 90 2159