Hydrogen-powered ferries: “This could be a game changer”

DNV GL is now collaborating with key operators to achieve something never done before – launching a Norwegian ferry powered by hydrogen.

When shipping company Fiskerstrand contacted DNV GL in 2016, they had their plan ready: To commission a ferry using hydrogen as a fuel.

The ambition is clear – and sky high: If they succeed, they will not only take a giant step in a more environmentally friendly direction on behalf of the maritime environment in Norway. They will also be one of the first in the world to use hydrogen fuel technology in transport at sea.

"The reason we want to create the first hydrogen ferry is to get zero emissions," says Rolf Fiskerstrand, CEO in Fiskerstrand Holding. 

But challenges are lined up: Technology must be developed, tested and adapted to maritime conditions and requirements. Safety rules for constructing and approving hydrogen-powered ships do not exist. The rules must be worked out. The infrastructure for storage and filling of hydrogen needs to be approved.

That’s why the project is tailor-made for Gerd Petra Haugom, chief engineer in DNV GL.

"Projects exploring such new solutions make it incredibly rewarding to work for DNV GL. It is unique to be involved in developing new technologies that can be of great importance to the environment and Norwegian business," says Haugom.

The vision of the hydrogen community
The first time the civil engineer was introduced to the future vision of the "hydrogen community" was when Stor-Oslo's local traffic unit (the predecessor to Ruter) around the year 2000 considered the use of hydrogen buses.

"Already back then, there was a clear vision of a 'hydrogen society'," says Haugom, adding: "They meant a zero-emission society based on renewable energy, where the energy carriers hydrogen and electricity would interact."

Hydrogen can play an essential role in solvingmany of the major challenges the world faces in achieving great cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is all about the new energy scenario, with more and more energy produced from renewable sources. Some of this must be stored, and much must be used for transport – with the help of hydrogen," says Haugom.

Several benefits
There are several benefits of using hydrogen in maritime transport. In ferry transport, for example, hydrogen may solve some limitations to both charging and storing energy on the electric ferries. If a battery ferry has to charge 40 times in 24 hours, much can be gained by saving some of the energy as hydrogen.

“Hydrogen can be used on many types of vessels other than ferries; short sea shipping, fjord cruises, fishing, to name a few. Hydrogen-powered ferries is just the start," says Kåre Nerem, project manager in Fiskerstrand.

At the same time, modern battery technology has in recent years developed rapidly, while the great hydrogen revolution has yet to happen. For Haugom it is, however, not a matter of either hydrogen or batteries, but what is best suited, and when.

"Batteries use power directly and so normally have a higher degree of efficiency than hydrogen fuel cells, making them basically better," says Haugom. But then batteries have their limitations. Unlike hydrogen, where the storage is separate from the fuel cell, energy is stored directly in the batteries. This means very heavy battery systems if you want to run something energy-consuming – such as a ferry connection – for a long time.

Cutting emissions
For developing hydrogen systems in transport, both onshore and at sea, the strongest driver is undoubtedly the wish to cut emissions. Because even though the energy you convert to electricity through the fuel cell may originate from both renewable and fossil energy sources, you'll get an immediate environmental benefit from cutting emissions locally, where the energy is used.

"Exactly that is important in all forms of transportation – even shipping," Haugom emphasizes.

At the same time, hydrogen has a number of challenges when it comes to safety and regulations.

"Here, DNV GL assists with our competence within qualifying new technology, alternative design processes and safety risk analyses regarding the use of hydrogen as a maritime fuel. It's about creating confidence and safety," says the chief engineer.

"Regarding safety and regulations, there are several challenges regarding the use of hydrogen," says Haugom, mentioning as an example hydrogen storage on board ships, as well as bunkering and bunkering plants.

"Could be a game changer"
Although technology and regulations are not yet fully in place, Haugom has no doubt that a Norwegian hydrogen ferry will be launched within a few years. And then it will mean much more than the launch of a single boat.

"This development project is an important step in the process of realizing the green shift in maritime activities, and it helps meet the UN's global sustainability goals and the Paris agreement," says Rolf Fiskerstrand.

Haugom also talks about a paradigm shift: Maybe the time is soon ripe to talk about the renewable society.

"The point of calling it 'a game changer' is that we can no longer think or perform the way we did before. Batteries have absolutely been a game changer in recent years, and now hydrogen can follow."

Gerd Petra Haugom

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