Whilst hydrogen fuel cell applications have often been associated with passenger cars, focus has shifted to moving goods and people via larger vehicles, i.e. buses and trucks, that make better use of the increased mileage and fuel efficiencies that hydrogen brings. These same benefits are central to utilising hydrogen to power shipping both at sea and inland.

The Port authority of Rotterdam has taken steps to decarbonise through hydrogen enabled renewable energy. Working with various partners, they aim to create a “large-scale hydrogen network” in the port and surrounding areas. Through these goals, Rotterdam intends to become an international hub for all things hydrogen – production, applications and import/export to other European countries. The port is currently the main port for energy import/export in Northwest Europe and will continue to be so with this initiative as industry and exports move towards greener alternatives. It’s predicted that there will be a need of 20 million tonnes of hydrogen in Rotterdam by 2050, over 3x the energy consumption for the whole Netherlands.

As a start,the port will connect 2GW of offshore wind to a conversion plant generating green hydrogen though electrolysis, as well as developing a ‘blue’ hydrogen project which uses  offshore carbon sequestration. The hydrogen will be transferred via pipeline to several applications, primarily local industry based where the hydrogen will be used in their production processes negating the need for fossil based sourcing.

Other applications involve providing heating to local residents via hydrogen ready boilers. The supply will also be interconnected with the planned national hydrogen back bone, which will transport blue and green hydrogen around the Netherlands, expected to start operations in 2023.

Goods need to be transported to and from the port with minimised emmissions as well. So the produced hydrogen will be used to fuel FC trucks that will move goods around the country. However, Rotterdam has another key infrastructure asset – the river Rhine.

Transport of cargo along the Rhine-Alp corridor is looking to get a hydrogen overhaul from Rotterdam to Genoa in Italy. The RH2INE partnership has an initial target of 10 vessels that will run on hydrogen by 2024, requiring 3 hydrogen refuelling stations along the journey from Rotterdam to Cologne. Each vessel will require between 3 and 5 tonnes of hydrogen to complete each trip. The number of refuelling stations will increase after the initial pilot run, allowing the whole route to Genoa to be completed on hydrogen. Similarly, a PEM fuel cell from Nedstack will power a bulk-carrier barge. The barge is being developed by the WEVA project partners including Lenten Shipping, NPRC, Nouryon and HyEnergy TransStore. Known as “Antonie”, the barge will carry salt and is planned to run from Rotterdam to Delfzijl.

The EU funded FLAGSHIPS project has spawned two vessels. In Lyon, France, development of a hydrogen powered utility-vessel/push-boat for the river Rhône began in 2019 and in Stavanger, Norway a passenger and car ferry will operate within the local public transport network. The project received €6.8m from the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and Horizon 2020’s framework programme. The project aims to have a first operational test of the French boat in April 2021.

These projects are a real learning point for Ireland’s waterways. When looking at small scale hydrogen passenger ferries, there are already projects in Ireland looking to adopt this technology. Valentia Island in County Kerry, are currently looking to build a small hydrogen economy. In a first phase, an electrolyser powered by renewables is planned to generate green hydrogen. Distributed to local residents and businesses for FCEVs, industrial processes and heating via similar boilers to those being deployed in Rotterdam. In the project’s second phase, an upgrade/replacement of the existing ferry with a hydrogen powered one is being considered, giving residents a carbon free route on/off the island. Rathlin Island, in Northern Ireland, are focusing on a similar goal. Focusing on becoming a green island whilst also looking to invest in hydrogen powered maritime transport to connect to the mainland.

Ireland also has its own marine specific technology provider in Artemis Technologies led by Olympian and America’s Cup sailor, Ian Percy. Ian presented on the recent GENCOMM webinar where he talked of the company’s recent award of £60M to build emission free ferries which, in a second phase will, focus on hydrogen.

As hydrogen vessels scale up, Ireland will see replacements for its passenger ferries and other maritime vessels. Old waterways can be ‘greened’ and, potentially, used once again more extensively for goods transportation – as we see happening in Rotterdam. Ports are expected to play a key leadership role in decarbonisation efforts via forward thinking initiatives to encourage the adoption of hydrogen technologies for enabling the movement of goods with zero carbon impact on the environment.

By Ian Williamson, President European Hydrogen Association.

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