Japan tests hydrogen-powered passenger ship

Japan has started testing the world’s first passenger ship with dual hydrogen-diesel engines as part of its promotion of this alternative energy source.

The 80-person Hydro Bingo boat can travel at a service speed of 23 knots and is roughly 20 meters long and 5.4 meters broad. On Thursday, it underwent a brief test trip around Tokyo Bay.

According to its designers, Japanese shipbuilder Tsuneishi Facilities and Craft and Belgian business CMB.TECH, which has expertise in the creation of electric vessels and industrial applications of green hydrogen, respectively, it is the first commercial passenger ship that runs on hydrogen.

The ship cannot operate commercially in Japan until the joint venture established by the two companies receives approval from Japanese officials.

The Hydro Bingo has a dual combustion engine that burns low-purity hydrogen and diesel, which the companies claim ensures that the ship will still be able to operate even in the event of an accident because it is simpler to rely on a diesel reserve tank than a hydrogen one or if there are problems with the latter’s supply chain.

In order to keep the engine running at the level necessary by the ship’s command given the conditions at sea, a computer system automatically reduces the amount of hydrogen that powers the engine.

In this way, if hydrogen accounts for 20% of the engine’s energy needs, the engine’s emissions of dangerous gases are reduced by 20%, and if the fuel accounts for 50% of the engine’s energy needs, the emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants are decreased proportionally.

Although engines with higher energy consumption, such as those of passenger and merchant ships or planes, require a huge volume of high-purity hydrogen, which restricts its use, hydrogen is already used as fuel in vehicles like cars and buses.

The logistical challenges and dangers associated with managing hydrogen, a highly combustible gas that is difficult to store and prone to leaks since it is lighter than air, pose the biggest challenges for the Belgian-Japanese initiative.

The joint venture’s head of operations, Yu Aonuma, told EFE that the availability of hydrogen is their largest challenge.

The issue, she continued, is “the snake biting its own tail” because there are now hardly any suppliers of the gas due to a lack of businesses that need it on a wide scale.

Aonuma continued, “That is why we built this vessel, with the goal of boosting demand in the hydrogen market. The ship uses roughly 100 kg of fuel every day, which is 20 times more than a hydrogen-powered vehicle would.

The Hydro Bingo’s developers hope that the pilot operation will enable them to draw conclusions about hydrogen engines in order to ultimately develop ships that only use this fuel, even though there is currently no set date for when the Hydro Bingo will begin transporting passengers in Japanese waters.

Although the technology to create hydrogen-only ship engines is currently available, Aonuma emphasized that these models are “not commercially viable at this time.”

As part of the country’s national strategy, which was authorized by Japan in 2020, to attain carbon emission neutrality by 2025 as part of the global targets in the battle against climate change, green hydrogen research and development are included.

In addition, as part of an ambitious initiative that aims to develop a supply chain for this energy source in the following ten years, Japan has successfully conducted the first testing of liquefied hydrogen transport by sea in the history of the globe.