Hydrogen technology is key to decarbonizing the maritime industryDecember 28, 2022
Decreasing the emission of such a complex industry is no easy task.
In order to reach greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), many experts agree that a multi-faceted approach is required, including renewable energies like wind and solar, leveraging hydrogen technology, as well as developing new technologies.
Hydrogen is likely to play an important role in achieving a green age of shipping.
Shipping is one of the most energy-efficient ways to transport goods compared to other transportation methods. For instance, Freight uses five times more energy. Still, due to the fact that the maritime sector relies almost solely on fossil fuels, this makes it excessively energy intensive. What’s more, with approximately 90% of world trade moving by sea, the maritime shipping industry accounts for 3% of all emissions worldwide. Experts say that his could rise to 10% by 2050 if the industry remains as carbon-intensive as it is today.
According to the UK government’s Hydrogen Strategy, hydrogen could be fundamental in decarbonizing the global maritime industry. The reason isn’t only because it can power vessels, but hydrogen technology is compatible with many other elements as well. For instance, powering port activities, such as removing cargo, etc., with renewable power like hydrogen would have a huge impact on carbon emission in the maritime industry as ports are the hub where land and sea meet.
Similar to fossil fuels, hydrogen can be stored and transported in tanks. Moreover, existing vessels can be retrofitted with hydrogen technologies like fuel cells. Unlike electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells need to be fuelled les frequently, refuel quickly, and are better suited to larger ships that take longer, international routes.
However, wide-scale adoption of hydrogen technology for the maritime industry remains a challenge.
According to Vidal Bharath, Chief Commercial Officer at Bramble Energy, the biggest challenges regarding implementing hydrogen within the maritime industry is a lack of:
- Government policy
Combined, these challenges are preventing hydrogen technology from achieving its full potential. As a result, the cost of H2 compared to other fuels is higher.
Furthermore, storing and transporting hydrogen on vessels in its liquid or compressed gas forms not only bring with it health and safety risk, but require more storage space at extremely cold temperatures.
Additionally, another major challenge is that for hydrogen fuel to be a truly clean solution, it needs to be produced via electrolysis with renewable energy, such as solar and wind, for example.
“Much like the implementation of hydrogen technologies in other industries such as automotive and mobility, maritime hydrogen power presents us with a chicken and egg situation. Should the ship technology be developed first, or the fuel?” says Bharath.
How can decarbonization of the maritime industry using hydrogen technology and other clean alternatives be made scalable?
To meet future demand, a number of gaps in the hydrogen supply chain must be addressed, beyond simply needing more adopters of the technology. For instance, there needs to be more suppliers who can support large scale compression of hydrogen for storage as well as line pipe manufacturers who are qualified to work with hydrogen.
Bharath also believes that a collaborative approach with the maritime sector teaming up with energy, heavy transport, and building heating industries is needed to develop supply chain networks, safety guidelines and regulations to make scaling and cost reduction of hydrogen-based fuels possible.
All that said, just as is the case with other industries, full scale decarbonization of the maritime sector will require the use of every single viable clean power solution, not just hydrogen technology.
“There is no single answer to the issue of maritime decarbonisation – only that an approach bolstered by technology and multiple energy sources is very much needed if the global industry is to come within a nautical mile of the emissions targets set by the IMO,” says Bharath.
However, the Bramble Energy COO added that to work with a decarbonization strategy that doesn’t include hydrogen technology would only slow – if not curb – the progress that is underway.
HYDROGEN POLL: Cost and infrastructure aside, are you ready to use hydrogen as a source of fuel for home heating?
Hydrogen as the fuel for the shipping industry: yes but it is likely that for very large ships, it would probably be carried as liquid ammonia which is much easier to keep as a liquid at room (ambient) temperature, whereas hydrogen must be kept below minus 253C to remain as a liquid requiring extensive insulation and refrigeration. Also Liquid ammonia has a greater energy density than liquid hydrogen.
Ammonia is a difficult product to handle being toxic and corrosive, so the use for shipping may be limited to large bulk carriers with few people on board.
Its also worth mentioning that these ease of replacing diesel engines with hydrogen-fuel cells will depend on the final transmission, as many older vessels have direct drives to the propellers rather than via electric motors.