Research findings estimate that maritime operations account for 940 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, or approximately 2.9% of global greenhouse emissions. Moreover, projections estimate that these figures could increase by up to 130% based on 2008 levels as soon as 2050 should no proper efforts be made towards decarbonization. This is where renewable energy sources come in to help meet the global target of cutting annual shipping emissions by 2050, as put forth by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Among the many potential alternatives to traditional fuels today, renewable hydrogen technology seems to be the feasible solution for drastically reducing maritime emissions since hydrogen fuel cells emit no emissions save for heat and water.
That said, hydrogen as marine fuel alone may not be the answer to the shipping industry’s harmful carbon footprint, as it depends on how it is produced. Most of the hydrogen generated and used in other industries is produced using fossil fuels, with only a small portion being made from renewable energy due to the latter’s higher cost.
Obstacles like these are one of many pressing issues that must be addressed for hydrogen fuel to become the new viable energy source needed to power the world’s fleet. With 2050 just over the horizon, it is a race against the clock to overcome these problems. By leveraging technology combined with man’s innate ingenuity, achieving such a feat is more than possible, and the latest innovations below prove that it is only a matter of time before we crack the code of green hydrogen shipping.
Innovations in Green Hydrogen Shipping Technology
1. Onboard Hydrogen Production Using Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
Enabling hydrogen production using LNG on board marine vessels is one of the many projects attempting to make hydrogen fuel a more cost-effective energy source. This concept stems from the joint development agreement between the Wärtsilä Technology Group and Hycamite TCD Technologies, who claim that their design will be ready by 2023 and will conduct prototype testing during the second half of 2024.
Essentially, it will allow shipping companies to utilize their existing LNG infrastructure to produce hydrogen aboard vessels when combined with Wärtsilä’s LNGPac Fuel Gas Supply System and their current range of fuel-flexible dual-fuel engines. The company states that using this hydrogen-LNG fuel blend with their DF engines can effectively reduce a vessel’s overall methane slip and carbon dioxide emissions. Alternatively, the generated hydrogen can be used by itself if a ship already has fuel cells aboard.
Lastly, this process creates a by-product of solid carbon that is much easier to manage and store onboard than the carbon dioxide (CO2) generated by conventional technologies. Also, since this carbon is composed of high-grade allotropes, like carbon nanotubes and industrial graphite, they can potentially be used as an additional revenue stream.
2. Technology to Ship Hydrogen Fuel
Hyundai Heavy Industries Group and its shipbuilding arm, Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering (KSOE), have achieved a breakthrough in transporting hydrogen fuel by ship. They claim the technology will be ready as soon as 2025 in response to the growing interest in dropping traditional fuels in favor of a cleaner fuel alternative like hydrogen. Vice President of KSOE’s Energy System Research Institute, Yoo Byeong-yong, states that they have already developed a concept ship with a 20,000-cubic meter capacity. Although it pales in comparison to current LNG supertankers that can carry up to 200,000 cubic meters and more, this new generation of hydrogen tankers will soon increase in size as the technology improves over time.
The company plans to build around 20 of these smaller ships by 2030 and up to 200 vessels with 170,000 cubic-meter capacities by 2040 should demand increase. Yoo also said that LNG would initially fuel these hydrogen transport ships during the early stages but could switch to hydrogen fuel once the market matures.
3. Si+ Lightweight Hydrogen Transport and Generation Powder
EPRO Advance Technology’s Si+ is the newest addition to the growing line of solid-state hydrogen powders. This porous silicon material is said to be the easiest and most cost-effective way of generating ultra-pure hydrogen on demand using a water source and is guaranteed to provide safe, on-demand energy. And since it comes in the form of a compact and robust powder, it can be transported through conventional means like trucks or shipping containers. Some of the notable advantages of Si+ include:
- Can support the transition to hydrogen fuel cells for electric vehicles
- Enable hydrogen refueling stations that share the footprint of existing fuel stations
- Facilitate the phasing out of polluting and costly backup diesel generator sets
- Creates silica by-products that are not only recyclable but also potentially useful for making other products like concrete
- It is cheaper than pure hydrogen when factoring in storage and transport costs
Green hydrogen is poised to be an essential component in the maritime industry’s journey towards decarbonization. That said, moving hydrogen fuel from land-based applications to shipping operations is no small feat. But with the maritime industry’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and the ongoing efforts to crack the code of hydrogen shipping, it is safe to say that hydrogen will fuel the ships of the future, whether directly or otherwise. How soon the industry can adapt to this transition to cleaner fuels remains to be seen.
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