ESA approves Norwegian aid for zero-emission hydrogen ships

The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) has approved NOK 219 million ($24.18 million) in Norwegian state aid for the purchase of two zero-emission hydrogen vessels being developed under the Topeka Nattruten project.

Courtesy of Wilhelmsen

State enterprise Enova granted the aid through its Eco-Inn scheme, launched in 2016 to protect the environment by promoting investments in eco-innovation.

As the authority explained, the support for the Topeka project exceeds the maximum aid allowed for a single project under the Eco-Inn scheme. Therefore, it needed to be notified to ESA.

The Topeka project aims to become an important milestone in the transition to a more environmentally friendly maritime sector.

It revolves around the construction of two ro-ro vessels that will transport hydrogen to different filling stations where local ferries and other vessels as well as land transport will have hydrogen as a ready-to-use fuel. 

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The vessels will be powered by a combination of a 1,000 kWh battery and specialised hydrogen fuel cells, which means that they will not emit greenhouse gases.

The Topeka vessels, planned to start operations in 2024, will contribute to the decarbonisation of the maritime sector.

The aid, which is to be provided as a direct grant to Wilhelmesn’s subsidiary Topek Nattruten for the acquisition of the vessels, will be disbursed during the period 2021-2024.

Last year, the Wilhelmsen-led project also received NOK 219 million ($25 million) grant from Enova to further develop the technology and additional infrastructure required to support the shipping industry’s ambitions towards zero-emission fuels.

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Additionally, a further NOK 80 million ($8.8 million) has been made available to one of the vessels being developed under the project from Horizon 2020, the European Union’s funding program for research and innovation, ESA said.