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Is Hydrogen Maritime’s Next-Gen Fuel?

Hydrogen just may be the next-generation fuel that will help carriers meet the IMO 2050 decarbonization standards. Find out more.


As energy use plummeted during the pandemic, we were treated to photos of a now-clear New Dehli illustrating how quickly the earth began to recover after the haze of petrol-diesel fumes disappeared from the atmosphere. Those photos made us realize the importance of IMO 2020 and IMO 2050, and which fuel was commercial shipping’s fuel of the future?

In June we talked with Adrian Tolson (Director; Blue Insight) about fuel for commercial carriers in 2020 and beyond. As the discussion moved from VLSFO-HSFO spreads to how the carriers would meet the IMO 2050 decarbonization standards, he mentioned that while ammonia, biofuels, hydrogen (H2), and methanol were being studied and trialed, none of them were currently technically or commercially viable, and how LNG was likely going to be the transition fuel until one of the others was developed.

That next-gen fuel may well be hydrogen; just last week last the Oslo-based Hydrogen Council announced that CMA CGM, NYK, the Port of Rotterdam and TechnipFMC became members; with NYK adding “In the future, NYK will not only transport hydrogen but will also work to realize a hydrogen society, including the development of technology for utilizing hydrogen as a marine fuel.”

Since NYK and CMA CGM are already trialing biomass and LNG, their attention to H2 is noteworthy. The box carriers know there are serious commercial and technical issues to that need to be addressed for any next-gen fuel to be successful, whether it be H2, methanol, biomass, or ammonia. Technological advancements will reduce the fuel’s cost of production, and the major engine manufacturers such as MAN and WinGD are already working with the several next-gen fuels regarding engine efficiency.

However, while BTU efficiency is important, on-board fuel storage is critical, and recent developments seem to have made hydrogen the most serious candidate.


A Hydrogen Society

Hydrogen is an efficient fuel; it’s already used in a variety of heavy industries such as chemical plants, petroleum refineries, coke ovens, and steel mills, and EU industrial giants either using or gearing up to use H2 are ArcelorMittal, ThyssenJKrupp Steel, SSAB, LKAB, and electric utility Vattenfall. But while powering a steel mill or utility is proof H2 is efficient, economical, and has back-up, the power supply needed by a 24,000 TEU mega has different parameters: it must be both 110% reliable, self-contained, and suitable for 30-45 day voyages without refueling.

Ammonia, methanol, and H2 is generated by on-board fuel cells, and while current fuel-cell technology is sufficient to power harbor-size vessels; it’s inadequate for the box ships making those long China-Europe, or longer China-Suez-Med-US East Coast voyages. But the H2 world is changing rapidly.

In April ABB and Hydrogen of France (HDF) announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly develop and manufacture megawatt-scale fuel cell systems capable of powering ocean-going ships, and on June 29, Bloom Energy (NYSE-BE) and Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) signed a joint development agreement to develop fuel cells for powering commercial-sized vessels. Their goal is to meet the IMO’s 2050 mandate to meet emissions reduction targets, with the new fuel cells reducing NOx and SOx emissions by more than 99%.


Cleaner Shipping with Hydrogen

The HDF/ABB plan is to first develop fuel cells sized to power harbor-sized commercial and tourist vessels and then move to larger hulls; while Bloom/Samsung is planning fuel cells that will power an Aframax tanker. Additionally, their goal is to have a product to present to potential clients by 2022.

Morry Markowitz, head of the Washington, DC-based Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Industry Association (FCHEA) told Xeneta that the Bloom/SHI collaboration “will demonstrate H2’s scalability to operate in the important commercial spaces such as the commercial maritime world.

While harbor-sized vessels are ‘commercial,’ having fuel cell technology capable of powering an Aframax is a credible game changer: an Aframax’s maximum DWT rating is 119,900 DWT, which is not so appreciably smaller than the 165,000 DWT of the first mega, the Maersk McKinney-Moller. This jump-starts the probability of fuel cell technology that’s Aframax-capable being improved in order to power the big box carriers of today.

Having a next-generation fuel powering an Aframax-sized vessel is a huge leap forward; having the fuel cells able to do so by 2022 is most audacious. But as the world has seen in the dirty-versus-clean photos in the past several months, the need for a next-gen fuel is critical long before 2050.

In the meantime while we wait for Hydrogen to enter the mainstream, companies need to be building greener supply chains, and that requires the data to better plan routes and calculate Co2 emissions. I recently came across and have been following Searoutesan API-first company which brings accurate data to empower current supply chain solutions. Their mission is to make freight transportation become greener by optimizing routes.

In the quest for a cleaner world, every little bit counts. I applaud companies with a sustainability-first mindset. 




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