Riviera’s Maritime Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Conference kicked off with an insightful presentation by an early adopter of hydrogen-powered fuel cells in shipping – Norled
Norway’s maritime industry offers favourable terrain for hydrogen-powered fuel cells, Norled project manager Hilde-Kristin Sæter pointed out during her keynote presentation at the conference in Bergen.
Ferries are lifelines in the country, and the Norwegian government has made finanical support available to businesses adopting new, lower-carbon technologies. However, within this relatively broad category, hydrogen-powered fuel cells must still compete with other environmentally friendly fuels such as biodiesel and battery-hybrid technologies.
Norled’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered ferry will begin operations in April 2021 on the Hjelmeland – Skipavik – Nesvik route. And the company was also a pioneer in building battery-powered ferries, meaning they are diversified in their approach to the environmentally friendly ferry market.
This approach suits Norway’s ferry market, Ms Sæter explained. Norway’s power grid provides environmentally friendly power and a ready source for charging batteries on short routes although batteries are not always ideal. For ferries that have longer transits and require more power -- for instance, ferries transiting to remote communities, where the power infrastructure is not available for recharging batteries -- battery technology cannot be used. These routes open the market for hydrogen-powered fuel cell application, but that does not do away with the reality that hydrogen techology must still compete for the route with biodiesel on cost, said Ms Sæter.
Currently, Norled’s fleet is made up of 80 vessels, with 22 ongoing newbuilds or retrofits. These vessels transport eight million cars and 18 million people a year. And a recent change of ownership for the company has meant more capital for investing in new technologies. In spite of the cash influx, hydrogen’s availability and cost remain a challenge, according to Ms Sæter.
Norled’s hydrogen-powered ferry will have a 400 kW fuel cell and can store three tonnes of liquid hydrogen, equating to three weeks of fuel. The vessel is overscaled for its intended operations but Norled wants to serve as a technology demonstrator, Ms Sæter said. And Norled is working on a separate project where hydrogen fuel cells are in the running. This ferry project could potentially have an even larger 600 kW fuel cell with fuel stored in a gaseous state – 600kg at 250 bars – but the final decision has not been made yet on propulsion, said Ms Sæter. It may be hydrogen, she said, but it may well be biodiesel.
Another challenge, according to Ms Sæter is that hydrogen as a fuel is not readily available in Norway. The plan for the fuel cell ferry is to bring in liquid hydrogen through trucks from France and Germany, which is not a realistic option in the long-term.
Ms Sæter said Norled plans to collaborate with many different players to develop the hydrogen infrastructure in Norway. “It’s a chicken and egg situation. Should be the market be there first or should the supplier come first to enable the market?” she asked.
Edwin Pang, project dissemination head at HySeas III and attendee at the conference, said financing a ferry carries fewer risks than financing a bulk carrier because ferries serve dedicated markets. Ashish Kamath, who introduced himself as coming from the automotive industry, said similar questions were posed in the land transport industry ten years ago. There, fuel cells are moving from small cars to trucks and could offer synergies for the marine industry, he said.
The inaugural session ended with the audience being invited to weigh in on how far ahead into the future are fuel cells. While a range of time periods were offered, from five to 20 years, most agreed that fuel cells will start small before the major players in hydrogen production get into the act and set up much-needed infrastructure.