Shipping is struggling to agree on methods for achieving ambitious environmental targets. Could concentrating on one environmentally friendly technology be the answer?
Just over a month ago, we had the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global warming, and more recently IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee set out an agenda of action points for its member states to discuss and attempt to define the measures they will take to meet the initial greenhouse gas emissions-reduction framework targets agreed at MEPC 72 in April 2018.
Therefore, shipping has the outline of where it needs to be and how it is going to get there.
But as we wander further down the road toward a carbon-neutral shipping future I wonder if we might be better off deciding on one technology and committing resources into developing that as the favoured solution. From an environmental point of view, the hydrogen fuel cell has a strong case.
The principle of the hydrogen fuel cell was first demonstrated in 1839. Fuel cells produce energy through an electrochemical process using two electrodes, one fed with fuel and the other with oxygen. Through the action of a catalyst, fuel is split into protons, which pass through an electrolyte, and electrons, which generate an electrical current providing power output. The particles are then recombined to form water, the only bi-product of the process.
So far development in the marine sector has been of the stop-start variety, with lots of early developments in Germany and elsewhere, but it was only in 2017 that it was announced an ABB fuel cell was operational on a ship.
On the propulsion side, the first commercial fuel-cell ferry in the world, Water-Go-Round, will use hydrogen fuel-cells provided by Ontario, Canada-based Hydrogenics to generate power. Water-Go-Round is due to go into operation in San Fransisco Bay in 2019.
Although hydrogen fuel cell systems are being scaled-up, it seems we are still a long way from making it work for deepwater vessels. Without more resources, hydrogen fuel cells seem to be, literally, a propulsion force of the future.
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