It is the first time that developers around the world are testing the use of hydrogen to power ships as the marine industry tries to find technologies to reduce emissions.
To meet the maritime industry goals set by the United Nations, industry leaders say the first zero-emission ships should enter the global fleet by 2030. Ships powered by hydrogen can help reach the target.
Green hydrogen made from electrolysis to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity from renewable energy is emission-free.
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell reiterated its commitment to hydrogen last month, which it sees as “advantageous for shipping over other potential zero-emission fuels”.
Hydrogen’s green credentials make it attractive to industrial users, including shipowners and oil companies, but on the other hand, it requires more built-in fuel storage capacity than fossil fuels. For now, it seems more suitable for use on ships on short journeys.
The Swiss-based ABB technology group is working on hydrogen fuel cell systems, including passenger and cargo ships. One of his projects involves the development of a fuel cell-based power and propulsion system for a newly built river ship along France’s Rhone river.
DNV GL, Zero Emission and Green Hydrogen
According to estimates by risk management firm DNV GL, green hydrogen fuel costs are about 4-8 times the price of very low sulfur fuel oil. Other types of hydrogen are cheaper, but this is because they are produced using fossil fuel, which means they are not emission free.
As the cost of renewable energy and electrolyzers falls, the price of green hydrogen is expected to drop in the next few decades.
However, for companies to invest in bulk, the relevant infrastructure for refueling and transportation, including electrolyzers, compressors, storage, tanks and pipelines, must also be available.
Christos Chryssakis of DNV GL said it took nearly 20 years to build a liquefied natural gas refueling infrastructure. He said the process could be faster for hydrogen, but billions of investments would be required, according to industry estimates.
Regulations in Norway can speed up the process.
Norway-based ship designer and shipyard Ulstein is working to build a backup vessel that will use hydrogen as a single power option for the offshore oil industry.
The company also said it is working on a separate hydrogen project for wind turbine ships.
Authorities say the municipalities in Norway have started a tendering process that includes the development of hydrogen-powered, high-speed vessels by 2022.
Zero Emission Responsibility
The shipping industry, which is responsible for 2.89% of global CO2 emissions, is in the middle of transitioning to fuels that will reduce these emissions by 50% by 2050 from 2008 levels.
A study by the nonprofit Global Maritime Forum (GMF) that mapped 66 projects investigating zero emissions in shipping showed that 19 out of 21 initiatives involved in fuel production use hydrogen in some way.
Many of them were expected to use hydrogen to make other products such as ammonia, methanol or ethanol to improve the viability of the schemes. Seven pure hydrogen projects
Some in the shipping industry are not convinced that hydrogen is safe as a power source for larger ships carrying large amounts of fuel on board.
But the bigger question for many is economics.
“The biggest challenge of using hydrogen for deep-sea shipping is the volume of cargo you would lose to have enough hydrogen for long voyages, which could be a commercial killer,” said Kasper Søgaard, head of GMF research.
Ulstein’s Wessels predicts that the need for backup fuel options will continue until the leap in technology and infrastructure takes place.