Developing hydrogen-powered, hybrid and all-electric vessels could revolutionise harbour towage and passenger shipping and help maritime meet its zero-emissions objectives
Pressure is growing on the maritime industry to cut emissions and reduce environmental footprints, and hydrogen could hold some of the answers. Hydrogen is still in the earliest phases of its adoption as a maritime fuel, but it is a trend finding backing, especially in near-shore operations.
Notably, hydrogen is beginning to be used on low-emissions harbour vessels, and early developments in Europe and Asia may herald a new hydrogen-powered era in towage, despite challenges with hydrogen’s handling and use. Early adopters are already testing the technology on all-electric tugboats.
Hydrogen power is also finding favour in other maritime sectors, especially passenger shipping, where the first hydrogen-fuelled ferries are in operation in Scotland and will be soon in Norway. And hydrogen-fuelled coastal freighters are being considered for use in Scandinavian and Baltic regions.
Early adopters in towage
Tokyo Kisen and e5 Lab have jointly developed the e5 Tug design concept for an electric propulsion harbour tugboat powered by a large-capacity battery and a hydrogen fuel cell to minimise the environmental footprint of harbour operations. e5 Tug will have enough power to drive two 1,500-kW azimuth thrusters to generate transit speeds of 14 knots and a bollard pull of 50 tonnes. Tokyo Kisen plans to have the first e-tug in commercial operations at Yokohama and Kawasaki ports in 2022.
Before that, a hydrogen-powered tug will be operating in the Port of Antwerp by Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB). It is constructing Hydrotug with hydrogen-diesel dual-fuel engines for zero CO2 emissions.
This is seen by Port of Antwerp as an important step to becoming sustainable and should be an example to others. Hydrotug is also integral to the environmental programme for CMB’s fleet development as it operates passenger shuttle ferry Hydroville and has a joint venture with Windcat Workboats to develop a hydrogen-powered crew transfer vessel.
Hydrogen fuel cells can also be used for inland towage as will be demonstrated in 2020 when Elektra pushboat goes into service along German waterways as part of a €13M (US$14.5M) project. Hermann Barthel is building the world’s first hydrogen-powered pushboat for Behala. This 20-m vessel will have fuel cells and rechargeable batteries for transporting goods between Berlin and Hamburg before 2021.
These projects highlight the environmental and cost benefits of investing in hydrogen fuel. However, there will be scepticism, not least regarding power and performance, and caution with handling and generating hydrogen.
For these reasons and others, all-electric tugs are pacing alongside hydrogen in the race for development of alternative propulsion options. In Turkey, TK Tuzla Shipyard is building the world’s first battery-powered, all-electric tugboat. Navtek NV-712 design ZeeTug is scheduled to be delivered in the next few months to operate in the port of Istanbul, where it will conduct harbour towing duties during the day and be recharged overnight. Its recharge needs could be a shortcoming, but a one-hour charge during the day should keep the tug powered up.
Both the hydrogen and battery development projects demonstrate promising zero-emissions propulsion options that could leapfrog past transitional fuels and diesel-electric hybrid propulsion solutions. Hybrid propulsion and LNG fuel have seen significant development and increased market share in some maritime sectors within this decade. It looks likely the next decade will see similar development around hydrogen, hybrid and all-electric propulsion options.