Zulu vessel

Flagships set to debut world’s 1st hydrogen-powered commercial cargo ship

The European innovation project Flagships is preparing to deploy the world’s first commercial cargo transport vessel operating on hydrogen.

Zulu vessel, Image credit: Flagships

The ship will be an inland vessel, set to ply the river Seine in Paris, and is scheduled for delivery in September 2021. It will be fitted with by hydrogen power generation system, i.e., hydrogen fuel cells.

The hydrogen cargo transport vessel will be owned by French inland shipowner Compagnie Fluvial de Transport (CFT), a subsidiary of the Sogestran Group. The company is currently developing a new business for urban distribution with transport vessels in the Paris area.

“Green and sustainable shipping is a prerequisite for reaching national and international emission reduction targets. Ships powered by renewable hydrogen will make a substantial contribution to reducing emissions from shipping and improving air quality in cities and other densely populated areas,” says Flagships Project Coordinator Jyrki Mikkola from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

The Flagships project was awarded EUR 5 million in 2018 from the EU’s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020, under the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), to deploy two hydrogen vessels in France and Norway.

The project’s initial plan was to deploy a hydrogen push-boat in the Lyon area, but as the broader potential for hydrogen in cargo transport emerged, the demo pusher was changed to an inland cargo vessel. The new vessel will be tasked with moving goods on pallets and in containers along the river Seine.

The shift in focus is based on Sogestran Group’s experience gained in Belgium, where Blue Line Logistics (BLL), another subsidiary of the Sogestran Group, operates three cargo vessels sailing under the concept name “Zulu”. 

Blue Line Logistics plans to have the ship operating on hydrogen before the end of 2021.  

One Zulu vessel has also been put into operation in Paris, and an additional two Zulu ships are currently under construction for the same market.

“Flagships is a very exciting project for us, since it is leading the way to demonstrate how vessels operating on green hydrogen can decarbonise urban rivers. By translating technological innovations into commercial operations we can make zero-emissions inland vessels a reality in every European city!” says Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director at FCH JU.

Pieces in the zero-emission puzzle

The vessel will operate on compressed hydrogen produced from electrolysis, enabling not only zero-emission operations. The power generation system for Zulu will be supplied by ABB Marine & Ports, with fuel cells from Ballard. LMG Marin is responsible for detail design drawings, with hydrogen provided by suppliers in the Paris region.

The Flagships consortium includes 12 European partners, with two shipowners, Norled and CFT assisted by its support company Sogestion and Sogestran; the maritime OEM and integrator companies ABB Marine & Ports and Westcon Power & Automation and ship design company LMG Marin.