The business case for hydrogen is starting to gain momentum in maritime, but what are the environmental and financial opportunities of developing zero-emissions vessels?
Within five years, vessels using hydrogen-powered fuel cells and batteries will make up a significant segment of the coastal fleet, according to Hyon managing director Tomas Tronstad.
Speaking at Riviera’s Maritime Hybrid and Electric Conference in Bergen, Norway, Mr Tronstad said the business case for hydrogen was starting to gain momentum. “There is really a push by regulators, a push by state-owned operators using their purchasing power and a pull from (government) authorities offering co-funding. There is also a pull from operators because they want to be green and from companies such as ours that are offering a more viable solution.”
Mr Tronstad’s company, Hyon AS, jointly formed by Nel, Hexagon Composites and Power Cell, is collaborating on two hydrogen fuel-cell vessel projects aimed at producing zero emissions. One is Project ZEFF, a zero-emissions fast ferry and another, Project Seashuttle, is a zero-emissions coastal container ship with automated cargo handling.
Both projects are among six that won backing under the Pilot-E initiative, a more than €100M (US$110M) scheme involving Norway’s Research Council, Innovation Norway and Enova. Pilot-E is aiming to speed up the development of zero-emissions technology. Norway already has regulations in place that require vessels operating in its fjords to be emissions free by 2026.
Seashuttle, which Mr Tronstad detailed at the conference, won €6M (US$6.6M) of backing from the Norwegian Government to develop two zero-emissions, 200-container coastal freighters connecting Poland, Sweden and the Oslo fjord. Hyon’s partners in the project are European multi-modal operator Samskip, logistics consultant FlowChange, technology firm Kongsberg Maritime, and Massterly, an autonomous vessel technology joint venture between Kongsberg Maritime and Wilhelmsen.
Hydrogen – a global business
“What is not generally known is that hydrogen is a giant, global business, with daily consumption and handling of about 70M tonnes for industrial processing,” explained Mr Tronstad. He said what is new is its use for electricity storage and energy in transport.
Mr Tronstad has a deep knowledge of fuel-cell development in the maritime environment, having served as project manager for the industry research project FellowSHIP, which began exploring the use of maritime batteries and fuel cells in 2003. The first prototype marine fuel cell was installed in Eidesvik Offshore’s platform supply vessel Viking Lady in 2010.
Incorporating a high degree of autonomous technology, the Seashuttle vessels will be fitted with a diesel- or gas-electric propulsion, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells to maximise operational flexibility, providing perhaps as many as 40 different propulsion modes, said Mr Tronstad. The sizing of each propulsion system has not yet been determined, but testing is being conducted at Kongsberg Maritime’s laboratory, simulating the generators, diesel generators and propellers in combination with a physical fuel cell and batteries.
Hyon will draw on its joint venture partners’ respective areas of expertise in hydrogen production and storage, hydrogen fuel-cell stack and systems manufacturing and refuelling in developing the Seashuttle vessels.
Mr Tronstad said the initial goal of the Seashuttle operation will be to produce zero emissions for 20% of the coastal route.
Europe’s largest multi-modal transportation company, with a fleet of six vessels and 300 trucks, Samskip, wants to lead the way in Norway’s sustainable shortsea shipping by using hydrogen fuel cells. To do so, however, the Seashuttle partners must overcome a number of challenges, pointed out Mr Tronstad. Topping the list were regulatory approvals, safety evaluations and devising a seamless transition between propulsion power modes.
With various shipping initiatives underway to meet IMO’s initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by 50% by 2050, Mr Tronstad is optimistic that those challenges would be met.
Emissions regulations cause concern
Tightening emissions regulations and rapid changes in technology have created a level of uncertainty among vessel owners regarding what investments they should be making in their fleets in order to retain their value.
“Owners are worried,” said ABB vice president market development, marine and ports Jorulf Nergard, speaking at the conference in Bergen. “They want to know what the rules are. One thing that is certain,” said Mr Nergard, “is that all the discussions are trending towards emissions free. The only question is, on what scale?”
Mr Nergard pointed out that the push for battery-hybrid and fuel-cell propulsion is not necessarily about saving fuel, it is more about global regulations aimed at reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions and reducing damage to the environment.
“First, it was about reducing NOx and SOx,” he told conference delegates. “Now, it is about limiting carbon to combat climate change.”
Mr Nergard, too, cited Norwegian government regulations that will create a zero-emissions vessel area within the country’s fjords starting in 2026.
This has led to a boom in orders for new ferries with battery-hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell technology. “There are 50 ferries on order or under construction and could well be 100 in the next few years,” he said.
ABB is one of nine European companies working in a consortium to develop two commercially operated zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel-cell vessels under a European Union-backed project.
Called Flagships, the project will develop a pushboat for operation on the Rhone River by France’s Compagnie Fluvial de Transport (CFT) and a public ferry for operation by Norway’s Norled. Both will utilise hydrogen produced by renewable energy.
Others in the consortium are Norwegian design company LMG Marin, Danish fuel-cell technology firm Ballard Europe, French vessel energy monitoring and management company PersEE, Finnish research centre VTT and Norwegian industry cluster NCE Maritime CleanTech.
Mr Nergard pointed out that a vessel built today will be in service in 10, 20 or perhaps even 30 years. He said owners need to ask, “How should it be equipped? What will its powertrain look like? The bottom line is that it needs to be flexible.”
Earlier this year, ABB launched Onboard Microgrid, a compact DC-based power distribution system for smaller vessels using batteries, fuels or a combination of the two. Designed for use in tugboats, ferries, and workboats, Onboard Microgrid is based on the same principles as ABB’s power distribution system Onboard DC Grid for larger vessels, such as OSVs or construction support vessels.
Mr Nergard said the system allows for improved efficiency and load sharing between batteries, fuel cells, biodiesel or biogas-driven propulsion systems: “We can have a DC link and connect all of the producers of energy in the vessel. It opens up the possibilities for battery, fuel, diesel or combined.”