Speakers at Riviera Maritime Media’s recent webinar Hydrogen and fuel cells: the key to decarbonising the shipping industry discussed developments in the sector
Norwegian ferry operator Norled project manager Ivan Østvik said the operator is building a hydrogen passenger vessel which will be the first to feature a large Ballard PEM fuel cell running on hydrogen.
Norled expects the system to last roughly five years and for the fuel stack to tally 30,000 hours before replacement. This is unchartered territory for the company. Mr Østvik said, “There’s no experience, we expect teething problems – alarms, sensors and so on. We have a huge focus on safety to avoid any leakage and accidents.”
In light of the lack of rules around hydrogen shipping, Future Proof Shipping (FPS), a clean shipping company, has opted for a risk-based approach in its ship design for an inland vessel.
The company looked at the rules around LNG vessels to progress to the design stage of an inland container ship. The vessel features swappable hydrogen container tanks, a lithium ion battery for electric propulsion and the aft has a vent line used for hydrogen containment.
FPS senior integration advisor Milinko Godjevac said the biggest risk to hydrogen storage is a fire on the deck or container. To prevent an uncontrolled release of hydrogen, FPS is preparing three safety layers. The large amount of high-quality steel used will allow for a 90-minute buffer period until the pressure and temperature reach undesired levels, while active water spray monitors will protect the containers and extinguish the fire.
If either option fails, the vessel releases hydrogen in a controlled manner, through the aft. The ship will also feature sensors for leakage and temperature monitoring.
Mr Godjevac said leak detection technology needs further work. Hydrogen’s highly buoyant nature makes it difficult to detect and needs a combination of sensors.
FPS hopes the ship will be operational by the end of the year to travel between Belgium and Netherlands.
Methanol fuel cell system manufacturer Blue World Technologies focuses on converting methanol into hydrogen-rich gas on ships, which then goes directly into a high-temperature PEM fuel cell.
Fuel can be reformated into a hydrogen gas or pure hydrogen. Using the waste heat from the fuel cell, Blue World can evaporate water and methanol.
Blue World chief commercial officer Mads Friis Jensen said “You don’t waste your energy on the process of reforming, which means you can achieve a high electrical efficiency.”
“Secondly, this gas cleanup is a costly component and it has losses. By combining these two elements, we get a new, very simple system with a high electrical efficiency.”
Blue World also makes a simpler battery-based system where the fuel cell has an easier time regulating the power output. This modular system can be installed on different ship types but will not replace the large two-stroke main engines, instead it will supplement smaller ships running a hybrid-electrical propulsion system. For larger systems, it will serve as the genset for auxiliary uses. The compact 200-kW design is scalable up to 5 MW.
The lack of regulation brings uncertainty. Mr Godjevac explained, “Nobody wants to do detailed engineering until you place the contract, you don’t want to place the contract until you are sure it will work and be accepted by regulatory bodies. So that’s a really big issue”
Hydrogen also lacks the robust bunkering infrastructure conventional fuel enjoys; 44% of webinar attendees flagged this as the leading challenge to implementing zero-emissions technologies.
Mr Østvik believes shipping’s fuel of the future will be a combination and linked to region-specific supply chains. Mr Godjevac noted operators have thus far been positive in accepting the higher costs associated with alternative fuels. His observation was backed by 61% of our webinar respondents, who feel additional costs are justified.
14% of webinar attendees have already invested in hydrogen fuel with 70% ready to do so over the next decade despite 37% of them seeing finance as an obstacle to implementing net-zero technologies.
Finally, Mr Jensen concluded that switching to renewables fuel as soon as possible is crucial and by far the most important aspect of getting to net-zero. “I’m hearing a lot of 2050 talk when talking regulations and stuff, but we need to think shorter term, things we can actually implement today.”