Marine fleets explore H2 in quest for net-zero carbon emissions

The shipping industry, which is responsible for 2.89% of global CO2 emissions, is in the midst of a transition to fuels that would reduce those emissions by 50% by 2050 from 2008 levels. Meeting this goal will require the introduction of net-zero ships by 2030. Ships fueled by carbon-neutral hydrogen could be part of this strategy.

Challenges to H2 use in ships. Hydrogen is significantly less dense than other fuels, requiring more onboard fuel storage capacity and making it more feasible, at present, for use in short-distance shipping. ABB Group is working on hydrogen fuel systems for passenger and cargo ships. One of its projects includes the development of a fuel cell-based power and propulsion system for a new river vessel for use on France's Rhone River.

Green hydrogen, which is completely CO2 free, costs approximately 4–8 times the price of very-low-sulfur fuel oil (VLSFO), according to DNV GL estimates. However, the price of green hydrogen is expected to fall over the following decades alongside decreases in prices for renewable energy and electrolyzers.

Infrastructure for refueling and transport—including pipelines, compressors, tanks and storage—must be in place before companies will make major investments in hydrogen. Infrastructure for the LNG sector took around two decades to set up. Although hydrogen infrastructure could take less time, billions of dollars of investment will still be needed.

Europe eyes H2 for marine use. A number of European countries are making strides in establishing incentives for hydrogen. Norway is requiring all of its cruise ships and ferries to be carbon-free by 2026, which could prompt shipping companies to consider fuel combinations including hydrogen. Municipalities in Norway have launched a tender process that includes the development of hydrogen-powered, high-speed vessels by 2022.

Furthermore, Belgium's Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB) introduced a hydrogen-powered passenger shuttle boat in Belgium in 2017, and the company will provide a hydrogen ferry for Japan by April 2021.

Meanwhile, Spain's Valencia Port plans to deploy prototype machinery, including for box container handling operations, in early 2021, while the UK's Felixstowe Port is exploring options for hydrogen fuel, based on its proximity to offshore windfarms and a nuclear power plant.