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Realising the world's first sea-going hydrogen-powered RoPax ferry and a business model for European islands

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - HySeas III (Realising the world's first sea-going hydrogen-powered RoPax ferry and a business model for European islands)

Reporting period: 2020-01-01 to 2021-03-31

The marine sector accounts for a significant proportion of global and European carbon and other emissions to atmosphere and are one of the factors playing into global warming. Currently marine transport is completely reliant on fossil fuels. While there is some potential to reduce emissions by making fossil fueled marine transport more efficient, that potential is quite limited. Battery-electric options (batteries charged from shore) offer only very short range marine transport and clearly alternative zero carbon (and other emissions) fuels are required to eliminate marine emissions.

Hydrogen is one of the likely candidates to replace fossil fuels in marine transport applications and HySeas III sets out to explore that option by de-risking the construction and operation of a hydrogen fueled vehicle and passenger ferry. The availability in coastal areas of both on and offshore shore renewables gives rise to the possibility of the hydrogen fuel being produced from wholly renewable energy sources.

The formal objectives of the HySeas III project are as follows:

1. Develop, construct, certify and validate an innovative hydrogen fuel cell drive system and in parallel with developing the design of a so-powered vessel
2. Develop business models to assist ferry operators and coastal/islands authorities to optimise the land-side interfaces and overcome the capital investment barriers to the wider roll-out of hydrogen-powered ferries.
3. Encourage replication by disseminating exploitable lessons to the European stakeholder communities.
Much of the reporting period was taken up with reconfiguring the HySeas III project following the loss of an original partner in the previous period, this and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic caused the project significant delays relative to the original plan and schedule.

Subject to those issues, the project pressed ahead with the construction and commissioning of the marinized hydrogen fuel cell- battery hybrid vessel power plant in at Ågotnes (in Norway near Bergen) in preparation for its demonstration – that being the centrepiece demonstration element of the project.

By the end of the reporting period the powerplant was constructed and was lacking only one significant component to be supplied by a 3rd party (impacted by Covid-19 related issues). Despite the lack of that component, pre-commissioning of the rest of the system went well and the system was working, albeit at a reduced overall power output. As well as the missing component, a number of snagging issues were identified during commissioning – these were not thought to be serious, but Covid-19 travel restrictions have been preventing the travel of key project personnel to the site to rectify those issues. Announcing project success in delivering that power plant is in abeyance pending the resolution of those issues.

A safety incident occurred during the plant commissioning. An insufficiently tightened connection allowed the escape of a limited amount of hydrogen. Project safety planning and procedures worked as intended. There was no fire or explosion, no harm was caused to persons or hardware. Credit for the correct handling of this goes to those directly involved and also to those involved in the excellent planning for safety. Full emergency procedure was initiated involving local emergency services and the incident attracted some local press interest – largely positive. Local emergency services are using the incident as an exemplar of how to handle such situations correctly.

Vessel design planning and preparation was undertaken during the period and is expected to proceed apace during the following period.

A generic landside fuel production, storage and vessel fueling model was further developed/completed, with an emphasis on speed of filling, energy efficiency and cost (capital and operating). It was clear from that work that the use of green hydrogen for marine fueling will require very cheap green electricity – the use of regular priced supplies will multiply the fueling cost of a vessel. The importance of storage also emerged clearly – installing an appropriate amount of storage can considerably reduce both the capital and operating costs of fuel production. Filling speeds are unlikely to match those for fossil fuels without employing many dispensers simultaneously – implying increased capital costs of fueling – to avoid this it may be necessary to change the management of how and when a vessel is fueled and by who (these factors also having cost implications).

Dissemination was relatively limited across the reporting period. That was partly due to uncertainty as to the exact shape of the reconfigured project and delays to progress which could be reported. However latterly, Covid-19 restrictions across Europe and beyond brought face-to-face conferences and meetings (including internal project meetings) to a halt. In-person external stakeholder plans had to be put on hold and the restrictions caused the project to think around different ways of disseminating learning from the project. It was decided to take a much more digital/online approach to dissemination – audio-visual material was collected during the construction phase of the power plant with a view to producing a promotional documentary. A 3rd party software developer was identified that was capable of turning partners’ 3-D technical modelling into a video-games type model of the whole system which a viewer will be able to walk through and interact with. (Such a software model is also likely to be of significant value in virtual reality training and simulation).

Some material was presented at online meetings and the project was mentioned peripherally in a number of BBC press articles/report (for example, albeit often in relation to the failure of the former project partner.

Environmental and socio-economic models were further developed, some scientific papers/writing were formally published.

In summary, given the circumstances which the project faced at the start of the reporting period, tangible progress was made on all fronts across the period, with main issues being caused by previous disruption to the consortium and the global Covid-19 pandemic. With the project being on the verge of announcing success in its core demonstration content as the reporting period closes, there is much to look forward to in the subsequent period.
As above and at the time of writing, the project is on the verge of formally delivering its main outcome in the from of the demonstration wholly of zero (fuel) emissions marinized power system capable of powering a commercial vessel.

As far as we can ascertain, this will be the first time this has been done using fuel cell and battery technology.

The eventual socio-economic and societal impacts of proving that water-borne transport can employ a fuel which does not emit CO2 in operation and allows much greater range than battery-only, is potentially extremely large, respresenting a step-change in marine power technology.