Hydrogen has some catching up to do in deep-sea shipping

It appears that the use of hydrogen as a marine fuel for deep-sea traveling ships is trailing behind that of its competitors, such as methanol and ammonia.

Internal combustion engines find hydrogen to be a desirable fuel since it burns cleanly and emits no greenhouse gases. However, in order to store hydrogen safely at such low temperatures while maintaining the structural integrity of the tanks and the entire vessel, a vessel must be compressed (to a pressure of 700 bar) or liquified (to a temperature of -253 °C). This demands significant engineering inventiveness.

In its Maritime Forecast to 2050 report, DNV stated that the main obstacles preventing a greater uptake are hydrogen’s low energy density and the corresponding space requirements, heralding a limited hydrogen uptake in deep-sea ship segments where 2-stroke engines are a natural choice for propulsion.

The article examines the extensive manufacturing, distribution, and bunkering infrastructures needed to make the transition to carbon-neutral fuels in the marine sector possible. Additionally, it provides a view on prices, future technologies, and laws related to shipping’s decarbonization.

However, as major engine manufacturers like MAN Energy Solutions and Wärtsilä are experimenting with blend-in technologies combining hydrogen with other fuels to boost the performance of 4-stroke engines, hydrogen is anticipated to be a more practical choice for the short-sea market.

“Short-sea transportation is anticipated to play a key role in the development of hydrogen technology. The paper stated that as a result, the development of fuel cells and 4-stroke engines is ahead of that of alternative hydrogen energy converters. “Methanol fuel technologies are more technologically mature than ammonia and hydrogen fuel technologies at this time.”

Ammonia and hydrogen onboard fuel technologies will be accessible in three to eight years, the research claims.

Currently, hybrid systems utilizing batteries are common on smaller ships, while LNG is the fuel of choice for bigger ships.

Out of the 1,046 ships ordered with alternative fuels, 167 are LNG carriers, 367 are various types of LNG-fueled ships, and 417 are propelled by battery or hybrid technology.

With 11 ships now in service and 14 more tankers on order, methanol has previously only been an option for tankers in the methanol trade. With 21 ships ordered this year that will use methanol as fuel, the container industry is also growing this year. According to statistics from DNV, there are 76 LPG carriers that use LPG as fuel that are either in use or on order.

The first newbuilds powered by hydrogen have been ordered, which is one of several noteworthy advancements in the short-sea area.

Within the next few years, the first hydrogen-powered cargo ship (With Orca) and the first hydrogen-powered 4-stroke tug (Hydrotug) are expected to enter service.

A self-unloading bulk carrier called Orca will be propelled by hydrogen that is compressed and stored aboard, and the hydrogen combustion engine will be improved for greater efficiency. A fuel cell system will also be installed aboard the ship to produce electricity when the load is low.

Through the use of two large rotor sails, a sizeable portion of the energy needed to power the 88 m/5,500 tonne ship will be obtained from the wind. Additionally, the ship has the capacity to store extra energy in batteries. Early in 2024 is when the emission-free ship is expected to start operating.

The Hydrotug, which is expected to start operating in the first quarter of 2023, is considered a crucial milestone in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges’ transformation to a sustainable, climate-neutral port by 2050.

Two BeHydro V12 dual fuel medium speed engines that can run on hydrogen or conventional gasoline are used in the tug.

The technology for medium-speed engines with greater power production was recently developed by BeHydro, a joint venture between CMB.TECH and ABC. The dual fuel, medium speed engines that each provide 2 megawatts of power and have been treated to meet the most recent EU Stage V emissions standards are used for the first time on the Hydrotug.

Finally, early this year, the world’s first ferry, the MF Hydra, powered by liquid hydrogen, was delivered to its owner, Norwegian ferry company Norled. The ferry received two fuel cell modules from Ballard Power Systems, with a combined 400 kW of power.

DNV issued a warning that the use of new fuels and fuel technologies will necessitate increased attention on safety, including the creation and enforcement of safety rules, from all parties involved in the marine industry.

This is specifically related to discussing the severe flammability of hydrogen and the toxicity of methanol and ammonia.

“In December 2020, when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) issued the interim rules for the Safety of Ships Using Methyl/Ethyl Alcohol as Fuel, methanol acquired the upper hand over ammonia and hydrogen from a regulatory standpoint. These criteria may be utilized in place of the risk-based alternative design approach for methanol-fueled ships, if acceptable to the Flag Administration. Although there is presently no such worldwide standard for hydrogen or ammonia, the creation of rules for these fuels is included in the IMO’s already vast work plan related to alternative fuels, according to the paper.

The first ships using ammonia or hydrogen as fuels will probably be built without the assistance of current comprehensive legislative restrictions, given the average delay for the creation of safety standards in the IMO.

There is increased interest in deploying carbon capture and storage onboard ships using conventional fossil fuels until alternative fuels are more widely and easily accessible.

According to the research, further demonstration and pilot projects will be required to advance the technological preparedness of onboard CCS, and several R&D initiatives are already underway to solve implementation-related challenges.

The CCS value chain is being developed as the industry advances with investigations of CCS possibilities on board ships and the development of massive liquified CO2 carriers. The CCS system from Value Maritime will be tested on board MR tankers owned by Eastern Pacific Shipping (EPS) as one of the most recent advances.