Investing in battery-hybrid and fuel cell technology makes good business sense, according to a presentation at Riviera’s Maritime Hybrid & Electric Conference
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 in a dynamic market.
“Owners are worried,” said ABB vice president market development, marine and ports Jorulf Nergard, speaking at Riviera’s Maritime Hybrid & Electric Conference in Bergen, Norway. “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 stress on the environment.
“First, it was about reducing NOx and SOx,” he told conference delegates. “Now, it is about limiting carbon to combat climate change.”
Norwegian Government regulations, for example, 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 cells 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 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.”
He made the point that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. “Some vessel types will be better suited for battery applications, while others will be more efficient performers with hydrogen fuel cells.” Pilot boats, for example, are better suited for battery applications, while longhaul vessels are more suited for hydrogen fuel cell applications. “There’s not just one answer.”
Indeed, those answers keep changing as the technology continues to evolve. He concluded that hydrogen and fuel cells will have a big role in the future. “There’s a lot of R&D activity around these installations to find the right solution. It’s an exciting time.”