The year 2023 marks a significant milestone in the history of marine technology, as several industry-first hydrogen-powered vessels embark on their maiden voyages.
These groundbreaking developments are the result of multi-year collaborations among various stakeholders in the marine industry, including integrators, vessel operators, fuel cell suppliers, and infrastructure providers. These pioneering efforts aim to launch zero-emission propulsion solutions with new hydrogen technology, even before marine classification agencies have established regulations for such innovations.
Powered by Ballard’s fuel cell modules, three vessels have made their debut journeys. Norled’s MF Hydra, the world’s first liquid hydrogen-powered ferry, operates in Norway. FPS Waal, a retrofitted cargo vessel, is expected to begin service on the Rhine River in Holland later this year. Zulu06, the first inland cargo transport vessel, will sail on the river Seine in Paris in the second half of 2023.
Ballard’s involvement in marine projects began several years ago, with the development and testing of fuel cells in marine applications. One notable project was Elektra, the world’s first hydrogen-fueled push boat, initiated in 2016. The learnings and insights gained from these early ventures have contributed to continuous improvement and real-world testing of Ballard’s fuel cell technology. This experience led to the development of the FCwave™ fuel cell module, designed specifically for the maritime environment. The Elektra continues to operate successfully, primarily transporting goods in the waterways around Berlin, with plans to extend testing to longer routes towards Hamburg.
Norled AS won a tender in 2018 for a zero-emission passenger and car ferry powered by hydrogen and fuel cells. In collaboration with Ballard, SEAM, LMG Marin, Westcon yards, and Linde, Norled embarked on this groundbreaking project, even in the absence of established marine classification regulations. The MF Hydra, equipped with two Ballard 200kW FCwave™ fuel cell modules, became the world’s first passenger and car ferry powered by liquid hydrogen. It began operating in March 2023, traversing the triangular route between Hjelmeland-Skipavik-Nesvik in Norway.
Ballard joined the EU-funded Flagships project in 2019, collaborating with various industry partners across the marine value chain. Within this project, two vessels will be deployed in 2023, showcasing the advancements in hydrogen propulsion technology.
FPS Waal, owned by Future Proof Shipping (FPS), is a retrofitted container cargo vessel aiming for 100% emission-free operation. The internal combustion engine has been replaced with a zero-emission propulsion system, featuring six of Ballard’s 200kW FCwave™ fuel cell modules, hydrogen storage, battery packs, and an electric drive train. This conversion will provide valuable insights into retrofitting vessels from combustion engines to hydrogen propulsion systems, setting a precedent for future retrofits.
Zulu06, owned by Compagnie Fluvial de Transport (CFT), is a newly built commercial cargo transport vessel. Equipped with two Ballard 200kW FCwave™ modules, it will be the world’s first commercial cargo vessel operating on fuel cells and hydrogen. By using compressed hydrogen gas produced from electrolysis, Zulu06 will not only achieve zero-emission operations but also establish a foundation for local decarbonized transport on land and at sea. It will navigate the route between Gennevilliers and Bonneuil-Sur-Marne on the river Seine in the third quarter of 2023.
Ballard’s involvement in these pioneering marine projects has been instrumental in adapting and improving its fuel cell technology for maritime applications. Working closely with marine stakeholders, the company designed and built the FCwave™ module, considering the unique challenges and safety requirements of the marine industry. Ballard received the world’s first DNV Type Approval for a fuel cell system, confirming its compliance with stringent safety, functional, design, and documentation requirements.
The shipping industry’s significant contribution to climate change necessitates urgent action to adopt zero-emission solutions. While current regulations primarily focus on larger vessels, the same legislation is expected to extend to ferries, inland cargo vessels, and short-sea shipping. With approximately 8,000 vessels below 5,000 gross tonnage still suitable for hydrogen fuel cell integration out of the global market of 90,000 vessels, the potential for hydrogen-powered marine technology is immense.
The successful maiden voyages of hydrogen-powered vessels in 2023 serve as a testament to the potential of hydrogen fuel cells in the marine industry. These pioneering projects, enabled by collaborations between industry partners and the adaptation of Ballard’s fuel cell technology, mark a crucial step towards achieving zero-emission marine transportation. As the global market shifts towards cleaner solutions, hydrogen-powered vessels demonstrate the viability and promise of a more sustainable future for the shipping industry.