A port operator and a shipping company have taken a leap of faith in ordering the world’s first hydrogen tug
Hydrogen may well become the fuel of the future for harbour tugs, but until now, it has been largely untested on vessels as small as tug boats.
Hydrogen is an extremely clean fuel -- avoiding the carbon dioxide (CO2), sulphur and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions of fossil fuels -- however, its storage can be problematic.
If it is liquefied for transportation, it can be highly explosive and flammable, and it does not have as high an energy density as diesel.
In spite of its shortcomings and with pressure growing on ports and the maritime industry as a whole to cut emissions and reduce environmental footprints, hydrogen holds promise. And that promise has just come a step closer to becoming reality in the tug sector.
The Port of Antwerp has partnered with Belgium-headquartered shipping group Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB) to build the world’s first hydrogen-powered tug.
Hydrotug will be unique when it is delivered as the first vessel with output in the 4,000-kW class to be powered by hydrogen-diesel dual fuel.
When burning hydrogen, the tugwill have zero CO2 emissions. As a hybrid vessel, it will sometimes burn diesel, perhaps as a top-up for short periods of towage. To mitigate pollution as much as possible, though, this tug is designed with a filter to remove particulates and a catalyser to minimise NOx emissions.
As Antwerp strives to become a sustainable, CO2-neutral port, its move towards a hydrogen-fuelled vessel is an important step for tugs, towage and marine services as a whole. For the future of ports everywhere, let’s hope the vessel is a roaring success and that it will lead other ports to follow.
For CMB, as a pioneer in the field of hydrogen power for shipping, Hydrotug is integral to the environmental programme for the company’s owned fleet.
The vessel’s ambitious build deadline aims to see it finished within two years, and CMB is using the most advanced, environmentally-friendly technologies available as part of its pioneering role in transitioning shipping away from oil-based fuels.
In building another vessel, CMB’s Hydroville, a passenger shuttle ferry powered by hydrogen dual-fuel technology, CMB helped to further sustainable, maritime commuter transport. Following on fom Hydroville, CMB then started a joint venture with Windcat Workboats to develop a hydrogen-powered crew transfer vessel.
CMB’s hydrogen strategy includes partnering with Belgian engine builder ABC in the BeHydro joint venture, which aims to further develop the technology for medium-speed engines with higher power output. Engines currently under development have a power range of 0.8-2.8 MW and are available in 6, 8, 12 and 16 cylinder configurations.
And, while CMB could reap commercial benefits as a first mover into an emerging propulsion technology, port environments and the humans who live there stand to benefit, too, particularly if authorities and shipping companies eagerly watching Hydrotug’s development are willing to follow suit.
Riviera Maritime Media held the Maritime Hydrogen & Fuel Cells Conference on 3 September 2019
Here are links to some of the articles from that conference and on hydrogen fuel