Hydrogen has a future as a base for producing low-emissions fuel for maritime, but development needs government support and financial incentives
For shipping to meet its goals for reducing carbon intensity and greenhouse gas emissions, it needs to develop marine fuels without carbon atoms, which is only possible with existing technology through hydrogen. This molecule can be fed into fuel cells to generate onboard electricity or used to produce ammonia with the addition of nitrogen, or alcohols by adding carbon.
Ultimately, there will be a future for hydrogen-based fuels, but this will need government and international support to either incentivise development of lower-cost zero-emission fuels, or to raise the price of hydrocarbon-based fuels.
A panel of technical experts debated the potential for using hydrogen-based fuels and what would be required from stakeholders during Riviera’s Green hydrogen as a marine fuel: what it means for shipping webinar.
This event, sponsored by TECO 2030, was held on 10 March 2021 as part of Riviera’s Marine Fuels Webinar Week. This panel consisted of shipowner MSC Group executive vice president for maritime policy and government affairs Bud Darr, port development group Haven Gateway Partnership business development manager Robert Edge, TECO 2000 chief executive Stian Aakre and Core Power (UK) chief executive Mikal Bøe.
Their debate garnered strong interest from the attendees with three-quarters (75%) of those responding to one of the poll questions saying they were considering hydrogen as a future fuel for their vessels.
In a separate poll question, 67% of respondents said their company was considering fuel cells for port stays and/or propulsion for their vessels.
This indicates momentum is building behind hydrogen as a long-term zero-emissions fuel option for powering ships. Whether this is through combustion engines, fuel cells or combined with other renewable energy sources such as wind power, there are several options.
Mr Darr is confident the shipping industry will adopt low-emissions fuels, but it is unlikely to be only one option and unlikely to happen without international government support.
“We will get there in the end, but I do not know how,” said Mr Darr. “Decarbonisation is the biggest challenge society faces and we will all need to do our part.” This includes stakeholders from authorities and international regulators, to consumers, supply chain, logistics, banks, insurers and shipping companies.
“There are a variety of options, but solutions come at substantial costs,” said Mr Darr. “It is difficult to find a long-term attractive proposition – there will be a reality to be met.”
MSC Group is looking at potential solutions to fuel its diverse shipping fleet, which includes 570 container ships and roro vessels, the world’s third-largest cruise ship fleet, plus fleets of ferries and shortsea shipping in the Mediterranean.
“I believe we will meet IMO’s targets for 50% [greenhouse gas cut] in 2050 and for full zero emissions, but I am not sure about the pathway.”
Mr Darr thinks there will be options for existing ships, but there are more for newbuildings, where naval architects could be innovative in designing low-emissions ships.
“We are bullish on hydrogen as a significant part of the main solution,” he said. To prevent emissions across the whole fuel production chain, green hydrogen production and efficient storage systems are required because of the substantial challenges of hydrogen’s volume, explosion risk and what is required to maintain the molecules in the liquid phase – high pressures and very low cryogenic temperatures.
Mr Darr said solutions need to overcome these. “We need to bring this to market at scale,” he said. Converting hydrogen to ammonia, LNG and alcohol-based fuels (methanol and ethanol) are options for larger ships and using hydrogen in fuel cells could be options “for peak shaving and operations at berth”.
TECO 2030’s Mr Aakre is a proponent of fuel-cell technology and his company announced plans on 10 March to build a fuel-cell innovation centre and production factory in Narvik, northern Norway. Fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity with water vapour and hot air as the only emissions.
“Hydrogen fulfils the demand for sustainability applied to vessels to be greenhouse gas-free,” he said. “Synthetic fuels start with hydrogen as the building block and we should use green hydrogen instead of refining it.”
He expects hydrogen fuel cells to be the main components of vessel propulsion in the future and to be producing them in Norway from 2022. “We are testing fuel cells with AVL in Austria,” Mr Aakre said. “We will be setting up a giga-factory in northern Norway and will have annual production of 1.2 GW of fuel-cell capacity.”
TECO 2030 will target the shortsea shipping sector and providing accommodation power on cruise ships with its hydrogen fuel cells.
“Fuel cells are space-efficient and modular,” he said. “We can combine fuel cells in building blocks and can use any type of hydrogen as fuel.” This can be stored as compressed hydrogen, as liquid hydrogen in cryogenic tanks, as ammonia or in a metal-hybrid hydrogen store.
One of the first use cases of TECO 2030’s fuel cells will be on tugboats on the Danube, which is part of the European Union-backed Green Hydrogen Blue Danube project. This will see hydrogen produced from solar and wind in Romania and transported on barges along the Danube river to industrial buyers in Austria and Germany.
Freeport hydrogen development
Haven Gateway Partnership’s Mr Edge said there is potential for hydrogen production and consumption in the proposed Freeport East programme, which includes Felixstowe and Harwich ports and hinterland, in eastern England. Both ports are operated by Hutchison Ports.
“Our unique selling point is both the diversity of clean energy sources for producing green hydrogen and the diversity of use cases,” said Mr Edge.
“We will be working with EDF (operator of Sizewell B nuclear power station and a future Sizewell C plant) to generate hydrogen,” he said.
The partnership is tendering for construction of the hydrogen plant to generate the gas from water using nuclear power and electricity derived from offshore windfarms. “Fuel system procurement could be in Q2 2021 with construction starting in Q3,” said Mr Edge. Hydrogen could then be produced in Q3 2022 for the Sizewell C construction vehicles.
If electricity is to come from offshore windfarms, then Freeport East is well positioned. “50% of the UK’s offshore wind generation is in the southern North Sea,” said Mr Edge. “Even with the UK Government quadrupling capacity by 2030 we expect to maintain market share.”
There is also potential to use offshore gas production platforms in the southern North Sea for hydrogen production or seawater desalination to produce saline-free water for hydrogen production. “We are working with companies to supply green hydrogen in Freeport East by end of this year,” said Mr Edge.
There is potential demand in the port of Felixstowe, where there are currently 200 diesel-fuelled off-road vehicles, straddle carriers and ship-assist tugs. “There are also some small local diesel-powered vessel manufacturers and operators of offshore workboats, survey vessels, tugs and pilot vessels, which could use fuel cells,” said Mr Edge. And almost 8,000 heavy goods vehicles and 36 container trains travel through Felixstowe and Harwich daily.
“We want to see the UK Government’s hydrogen strategy, but there will be more demand in Freeport East than we could sustain,” said Mr Edge. “It is how we prioritise the use cases. We could offer cold ironing and increase fuel-cell capacity as we look to decarbonise.”
Core Power’s Mr Bøe said a future source of energy for hydrogen generation will be from atomics, particularly molten salt reactor (MSR) technology. “We support the hydrogen systems, but there are concerns about production costs,” he said. “We need to tackle the problem with a new form of energy, with dedicated systems.”
Core Power is working with a consortium in the US to develop, build and test MSR technology that would be 97% fuel efficient. “It burns up most of the nuclear fuel with very little waste, no pressure and no toxin emissions,” said Mr Bøe. “It is durable, safe and reliable power for producing hydrogen from seawater and could in the future be used to power the largest ships.”
These could be built to generate 15-50 MW and have a lifetime of 6-30 years without needing any fuel changes, such as throughout the lifecycle of a 20,000-TEU container ship or ultra-large bulk carrier.
One of the potential applications is for a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) ship. Its molten salt reactor could produce enough power to combine hydrogen from seawater with nitrogen in the air to form green ammonia, or carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to generate methanol for shipping.
“MSR could be transformational for zero emissions without the environmental impact,” said Mr Bøe. He predicted the first MSR-powered ships could be introduced in the 2030s and “significantly eat into shipping power in the 2040s,” he said.
Webinar attendees were asked whether hydrogen is the best way to comply with future maritime legislations. 53% of those responding agreed and 14% strongly agreed, but 25% disagreed and 8% strongly disagreed.
They were then asked: Are governments around the world establishing sufficient strategies and tools to propel industrialisation of zero-emissions fuels and technologies? The greatest portion of replies, 63% disagreed and 10% strongly disagreed, while 25% agreed and just 2% strongly agreed.
On Riviera’s Green hydrogen as a marine fuel: what it means for shipping webinar panel were (left to right): Core Power (UK) chief executive Mikal Bøe, TECO 2000 chief executive Stian Aakre, MSC Group executive vice president for maritime policy and government affairs Bud Darr and Haven Gateway Partnership business development manager Robert Edge.
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