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Hydrogen Is the Ideal Zero-Emissions Fuel, Part 1
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Hydrogen Is the Ideal Zero-Emissions Fuel, Part 1

October 11 ------ The maritime industry is at a crossroads. It has reached a point in its history where it has to pick the right path to meet its decarbonization targets. Specifically, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) climate strategy has set out to reduce the total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050. Nevertheless, the shipping world is yet to carve out the strategy on how to achieve that.  To propel the industry into the future, a large burden has fallen on the engineers and the role of technology in coming up with ingenious solutions to cut emissions, redesign ships and help the industry reinvent itself.  However, the key factor in making the giant leap toward a less polluted future are zero-emission fuels.

World Maritime News spoke with Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO of Joi Scientific, on the potential of hydrogen to be the fuel of the future. Joi Scientific, headquartered at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is leading the development in efficient extraction technology to produce hydrogen energy from water.  “The commitment of the IMO to cut the shipping sector’s overall CO2 output by 50 percent by 2050 is a vital step to bring the maritime industry in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. For these commitments to be met, it is imperative that the maritime industry look at alternatives to fossil fuels for both propulsion and auxiliary power. While batteries may make sense in some very small craft and nuclear has a role in the very largest, neither is practical for the vast majority of maritime vessels,” Kennedy said. 

“Hydrogen has a major role to play in the sector’s reduction of CO2 emissions and the elimination of sulphur and heavy metals from maritime activities. By weight, hydrogen is a highly energy dense fuel that is entirely clean – with the only by-product being water. It is also highly adaptable; the same source of hydrogen can be used in fuel cells for auxiliary power in addition to internal combustion engines, burners, and turbines for propulsion.  Vessels reliant on heavy fuel oil today should look to switch directly to hydrogen rather than just adapting to compliant low-sulphur bunker oil. The environmental forces are clearly there to render major fuel source changes in the maritime industry, and hydrogen looks to be a big winner.”

Kennedy believes hydrogen is the ideal zero-emissions fuel as the product of its combustion is only water vapor. As explained, hydrogen is already fueling various modalities in California, Japan and across Europe including autos, buses, trains, and aircraft but its adoption in the marine environment has been slower to date.  Over the recent period there have been some projects exploring hydrogen as marine fuel in the passenger shipping industry, mostly ferries. Most notably, in September last year cruise ship owner Viking Cruises unveiled plans for a liquid hydrogen-fueled cruise ship, and earlier this year Ferguson Marine announced its plans on developing the world’s first renewables-powered hydrogen ferry – HySeas III.

However, it appears that the technology is still in its infancy.  Hydrogen has to be kept at minus 253 degrees to prevent it from evaporating.  “It is, indeed, early days but the early trials have been very promising. One of the reasons that ferries have been targeted for hydrogen trials is because they travel to the same ports of call over and over. This is critical, as it allows ferries to load hydrogen when they dock,” Kennedy said.  One of the key drawbacks in greater uptake of the technology are challenges related to storage and supply because hydrogen has to be kept at minus 253 degrees to prevent it from evaporating.

Keeping hydrogen in a liquid form through cooling and pressurization is both technically challenging and also expensive as the cooling alone uses up 18% of the available fuel.  “Storage has been one of the most difficult challenges in the broad adoption of hydrogen as a clean fuel. The small atomic size of hydrogen means that highly specialized materials have to be used to contain the molecules, and the low inter-molecular attraction means that the element has a low liquification point,” Kennedy said.  “In practice, three approaches have been used to store hydrogen: cryogenics where the liquid hydrogen is kept at -253 oC, pressurization of hydrogen gas, and containment or loading of hydrogen in metal hydrides or other molecular solid structure. All suffer major drawbacks. The need to keep liquid hydrogen at such low temperatures means that around 18% of the hydrogen is used just to provide the cooling. Gaseous pressurization requires triple-layer carbon fiber reinforced tanks that are bulky and expensive. While metal hydrides and other containment solids are often difficult and dangerous materials to work with.”