Hydrogen 101 with Nor-Shipping: the lowdown on maritime’s fuel of the future

A growing array of ocean industry stakeholders are throwing their hats in the hydrogen ring, identifying the potential of a fuel that, they believe, could help industry, and society, move successfully towards our shared climate goals.

With a breakthrough global conference on the horizon – Nor-Shipping Hydrogen Blue Talks – Fuelling the Future – leading experts gather in a virtual roundtable talk to deliver insights, intelligence and the latest news on innovations.

The topics discussed here lay the foundations for the new online and physical conference, taking place as part of the Ocean Now initiative at Nor-Shipping’s Nova Studios in Lillestrøm, Norway, on 2 June.

Why is hydrogen such an attractive fuel for the maritime industry?

Stein Kvalsund (hereafter SK), CEO Hub for Ocean/Ocean Hyway Cluster, “While a battery might be an excellent ‘green’ solution for shorter distances, it has limitations when it comes to high tonnage and long-range operations. Many maritime applications require a great deal of energy, and that’s where hydrogen has enormous potential”.

Kai Stoltz (KS), Business Development Manager, GCE Ocean Technology, “I’ll borrow a quote from our partner SINTEF: “Hydrogen has the power to lift NASA space shuttles, but is so climate-friendly its only emission is water. In short, it is a key piece of maritime’s future energy puzzle, with real potential to help us meet the Paris Agreement and limit global warming”.

Hege Økland (HØ), CEO, NCE Maritime Cleantech, “Hydrogen can be produced from renewable energy, with tried and tested production technology, and is well suited as a zero-emission alternative for larger vessels that demand more energy. I believe liquid hydrogen can be a cost-competitive green fuel, when produced at volume, and offered through an efficient logistics chain with safe, robust bunkering operations”.

What stage are we at in the development of vessel technology to utilise the fuel?

Ingebjørg Telnes Wilhelmsen (ITW), General Secretary, Norwegian Hydrogen Forum, “Hydrogen and Fuel Cells (FCs) for maritime transport have been demonstrated in numerous pilot vessels over the last two decades. Recently, the power range of the fuel cell systems has increased from a few hundred kW to Megawatts making these systems suitable for car ferries and smaller cruise ships.

Interestingly, Ballard Power Systems Europe is currently in the final steps of approval for their 200kW maritime FC module, a suitable building block for MW-sized FC propulsion systems. Such innovations have the potential to really accelerate developments and adoption”.

What stage are we at in the development of the infrastructure needed to supply it?

SK: “There are numerous developments in all parts of the chain to improve efficiencies, scale and reduce the price. Internationally, government hydrogen strategies will soon lead to an explosion in investment that will result in rapid improvements in hydrogen technology”.

Bjørn Saltermark (BS), General Manager Maritime Forum South and Project manager GCE NODE, “Governments have to work, both nationally and internationally, to come up with a concrete plan for an adequate infrastructure to serve the maritime industry. That is lacking so far. Similarly, IMO needs to exert pressure on member states to do the same. A failure of collective planning will lead to a failure to realise the huge potential of hydrogen”.

HØ: “Several initiatives are underway, however there is a real need for stronger and more explicit efforts, both from individual states and the wider international community”.

What support does the maritime industry need to help facilitate the adoption of hydrogen?

Knut Linnerud (KL), CEO, H2 Cluster “It’s safe to say that an enormous amount of money is needed. At the moment it’s a typical ‘chicken and egg’ situation. However, after several false starts I believe we’re now seeing positive moves by many authorities and leading companies, with large budgets set aside and financial incentives throughout the value chain, for example in the EU. This trend should enable private companies to dare to invest in long-term adoption. In this respect, I think the egg might be about to hatch”.

KS: “Public funding must be tailored to support the hydrogen roadmap. Moreover, governments must ensure that important social and political frameworks are developed in collaboration with technical, economic, legal and social science expertise. A commitment to hydrogen will create new jobs, value and major opportunities for businesses, but governments must also invest in more R&D within hydrogen security, ensuring that safety follows rapid development within this field”.

ITW: “Public procurement should be used as an accelerator. As an example, here in Norway public agencies procure goods and services for close to €58Bn a year. The Norwegian government has strong ambitions to phase in low- and zero-emission technology in the transport sector in general, and in public maritime transport in particular.

Public funding for risk sharing could help facilitate early movers; support to scale up the supply of hydrogen and thereby reduce the cost

They have stated that they will contribute to the requirement for zero and low emissions in future tenders for ferries and high-speed passenger boats. Hydrogen development can benefit from this approach. Key elements include: greater cooperation across private and public stakeholders – Public-Private partnerships (of which we have several in Europe) have shown to be viable platforms to provide for rapid technology development and the deployment of innovative solutions; Public funding for risk sharing could help facilitate early movers; support to scale up the supply of hydrogen and thereby reduce the cost; working together to identify best practice, both nationally and internationally”. And this is really just the tip of the iceberg!

How important is ammonia as an alternative and why?

HØ: “Hydrogen and ammonia are not competitors, they are supplementary. For vessels with higher speed and shorter regular routes hydrogen fuel cells are the best option. However, for vessels with lower speed covering longer distances, such as deep-sea vessels, ammonia will be a better choice”.

ITW: “Ammonia has a significantly higher energy density than pure hydrogen. That means fuel storage of ammonia will take up less space than hydrogen on-board, and/or ammonia will provide for longer periods between refuelling. For medium and larger ships, ammonia will become an attractive zero emission fuel”.

SK: “Ammonia (NH3) is seen by many industry players as very promising. Production of NH3 has a long history in Norway, primarily for use in the fertilizer industry. That means there’s significant existing infrastructure and competence here to build a zero carbon NH3 value chain capable of powering the ships of the future”.

How can hydrogen and ammonia work with existing fuels and technology to enable the green maritime transition?

ITW: “Ammonia can be converted in internal combustion engines, so retrofitting existing vessels to utilise ammonia can enable significantly reduced emissions. Some larger maritime engine and propulsion system suppliers, like Wärtsilä, have now developed ammonia powered combustion engines”.

What do you see as the major challenges on the horizon?

KL: “The main challenge is that the ‘power economy’ is still overwhelmingly controlled by those with the largest reserves/ownership of fossil fuels. So, there are enormously influential forces associated with the oil and gas sector, now and into the foreseeable future. This impacts upon democracies through lobbying and propaganda, while dictatorships are unwilling to turn their backs on major sources of wealth. There is an iron grip upon energy that, somehow, needs to be broken”.

BS: “Put simply, establishing an infrastructure for fuelling the short-sea fleet ASAP, then doing the same for the deep-sea fleet in the future”.

HØ: “The transition is moving too slowly to reach the ambitious goals set for shipping. It is also a major challenge to ensure the availability of new fuels such as hydrogen, building the necessary value chains. And of course, this question of availability creates an understandable uncertainty for shipowners”.

From your personal perspective, why are you backing hydrogen as the fuel of the future?

KL: “I think it is the best solution with the potential for large-scale adoption in connection with the development of renewable energy and power grids. Batteries, I think, will also have a role to play, but not nearly as crucial in the long-term as we look to solve the climate crisis”.

KS: “Hydrogen is central to achieving emission-free and sustainable energy systems. For Norway, and other nations, hydrogen can contribute to both increased competitiveness, safe jobs, value creation, and reaching climate goals”.

What will be your key messages for the audience at Nor-Shipping Hydrogen Blue Talks – Fuelling the Future?

HØ: “The transition is challenging and we need collaboration across multiple sectors and value chains – the shipping industry must work closely with the energy sector, amongst others. In short, we have to accelerate developments, so a collective effort is imperative”.

KL: “Be honest with yourself when trying to find short-term energy solutions. Which solution do you genuinely believe would be best for your grandchildren…and the planet’s future?”

ITW: “New, zero emission propulsion solutions are now being scaled up and introduced for maritime transport. This includes both the replacement of fossil fuels and the introduction of new energy conversion technologies like fuel cells. The maritime sector is taking an active role in the transition towards zero emission operations, and we all have a part to play”.

BS: “To meet our ambitious climate change goals we need action now. The train has left the station! This is the future!”

For further information on Nor-Shipping Hydrogen Blue Talks – Fuelling the Future click here.

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