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Power ahead with hydrogen ferries

With one of the world’s most extensive ferry systems and a wealth of clean hydropower, Norway has determined to take a pioneering position in hydrogen-fuelled ferries.

The Norwegian government is supporting a wide range of interconnected hydrogen fuel activities involving players ranging from the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA), the Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) and the Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA), to DNV GL, shipyards and shipowners.

With the backing of the government, the NPRA established a project in 2017 with the ultimate goal of building and operating a hydrogen-electric ferry on the Hjelmeland–Nesvik route on the southwest coast. The project aims to develop and implement hydrogen technology in order to achieve zero emissions on ferry routes not suitable for full-electric operation.

“The ambition for the project is to take zero-emission technology a big step further. It will require considerable development work to bunker and operate a vessel with hydrogen. We expect the transfer value to other maritime segments to be significant,” Public Roads Director Terje Moe Gustavsen stated recently.

Camilla Røhme, project manager for development contracts for hydrogen-electric ferries in the NPRA, acknowledged the high level of cooperation in the project: “We are impressed at the hard work and dedication of the regulatory, technical and business stakeholders. The NMA and the DSB established robust guidelines for marine hydrogen early on, and the industry responded quickly and professionally. That cooperation makes it possible for this and other projects to look beyond the pilot stage, and begin developing long-term solutions for society.”

From fossil to renewable

A second remarkable project, called HYBRIDShip, was initiated by Fiskerstrand Holding AS in 2016 and aims to convert an existing diesel-powered ferry to hydrogen. Fiskerstrand was granted support through PILOT-E, a financing tool from the Research Council of Norway, Innovation Norway and Enova.

HYBRIDShip stands for “Hydrogen and Battery Technology for Innovative Drives in Ships”. “The goal of the HYBRIDShip pilot project is a hybrid-powered ferry to start operation in 2020,” said Group CEO of Fiskerstrand, Rolf Fiskerstrand, when the project was launched. The main propulsion will be powered by hydrogen and fuel cells, supplemented with batteries, for ferries and ultimately larger vessels. “Our PILOT-E funding comes from a programme for zero-emission solutions in the marine industry, but Fiskerstrand also wants to lead this new technology. We believe it will be an important market in the near future,” Fiskerstrand said in a 2017 interview with NauticExpo magazine.

By focusing on a specific ship design, the project will also strengthen the NMA’s approval process for the use of hydrogen as fuel in maritime transport, according to the NMA reports. The same effect can be expected for DNV GL’s class rules.

“We are pleased that the Norwegian Maritime Authority is increasingly involved at an early stage in innovative projects,” said NMA Director General of Shipping and Navigation, Olav Akselsen, in a recent press release. “This means that we are better prepared in those cases where the new technology is not covered by current regulations. But we also understand that the industry is increasingly looking at the NMA as an important partner in the development of new solutions.”

By employing hydrogen-powered propulsion, both the NPRA and HYBRIDShip projects ultimately aim to make zero-emission technology feasible for routes that are too long for pure electric propulsion. Once the technology is refined on shorter routes, the plan is to expand into longer and more demanding trips and larger vessel types. In an interesting twist, both projects have the ambition of being first across the finishing line.

Rules and regulations for hydrogen as alternative fuel

DNV GL published their first rules for fuel cells in ships several years ago, based on experience gained in the recently completed FellowSHIP project. An updated version was launched in January 2018. The rules are linked to relevant codes and standards for other industries with a longer hydrogen history. “There are still regulatory gaps related to the storage of hydrogen, but the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code) that entered into force in January 2017 was an important milestone, as it is a mandatory code,” says Gerd Petra Haugom, Principal Consultant, Environmental Advisory at DNV GL – Maritime.

The IGF Code opens up for applying a specifically defined “Alternative Design Approach” for approval of hydrogen fuel storage and fuel supply systems. The experiences gained with LNG and other low-flashpoint fuels provide valuable insights into the process of obtaining the approvals required before new hydrogen ships can receive approval from the NMA.

DNV GL has also worked closely with the European Maritime Safety Agency on the EMSA Study on the Use of Fuel Cells in Shipping, under the agreement of the European Commission and in support of EU Member States. According to EMSA, the study includes a technology and regulatory review, identifying gaps to be closed, the selection of the most promising fuel cell technologies for shipping, and a generic safety assessment where the selected technologies are evaluated according to risk and safety aspects in generic ship design applications.

Key challenge: infrastructure for efficient hydrogen supply

One key challenge for the future will be to mature the infrastructure for delivering hydrogen where and when it is needed, but starting with ferries sailing on fixed routes simplifies logistical requirements greatly, and allows stakeholders to begin logging valuable experience.

Learning can also be shared across segments, as Gerd Petra Haugom notes: “For someone who worked with early projects for hydrogen vehicles and infrastructure, it is exciting to witness the growing interest for hydrogen in maritime. I really hope we might have a similar situation for hydrogen as we have seen with batteries over the last years. Back in 2015, when the first battery ferry was set in operation, hardly anybody believed the battery market could grow as fast as it has.”

She has no doubt about hydrogen’s potential to help clean up the maritime emissions picture. “There is a lot of good work being done in Norway and internationally, with many exciting projects to develop technologies that actually can make it possible to meet ambitious emission reduction targets. The Norwegian government has also provided critical support to help these first projects gain momentum and show the way for others to follow. With so many forces coming together, these targets now appear to be within reach.”

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