Interview: Hydrogen Is the Ideal Zero-Emissions Fuel
The maritime industry is at a crossroads. It has reached a point in its history where it has to pick the right path to meet its decarbonization targets. Specifically, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) climate strategy has set out to reduce the total greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050. Nevertheless, the shipping world is yet to carve out the strategy on how to achieve that.
To propel the industry into the future, a large burden has fallen on the engineers and the role of technology in coming up with ingenious solutions to cut emissions, redesign ships and help the industry reinvent itself.
However, the key factor in making the giant leap toward a less polluted future are zero-emission fuels.
World Maritime News spoke with Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO of Joi Scientific, on the potential of hydrogen to be the fuel of the future. Joi Scientific, headquartered at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is leading the development in efficient extraction technology to produce hydrogen energy from water.
“The commitment of the IMO to cut the shipping sector’s overall CO2 output by 50 percent by 2050 is a vital step to bring the maritime industry in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. For these commitments to be met, it is imperative that the maritime industry look at alternatives to fossil fuels for both propulsion and auxiliary power. While batteries may make sense in some very small craft and nuclear has a role in the very largest, neither is practical for the vast majority of maritime vessels,” Kennedy said.
“Hydrogen has a major role to play in the sector’s reduction of CO2 emissions and the elimination of sulphur and heavy metals from maritime activities. By weight, hydrogen is a highly energy dense fuel that is entirely clean – with the only by-product being water. It is also highly adaptable; the same source of hydrogen can be used in fuel cells for auxiliary power in addition to internal combustion engines, burners, and turbines for propulsion.
“Vessels reliant on heavy fuel oil today should look to switch directly to hydrogen rather than just adapting to compliant low-sulphur bunker oil. The environmental forces are clearly there to render major fuel source changes in the maritime industry, and hydrogen looks to be a big winner.”
Could hydrogen be the zero-emissions fuel the shipping industry strives for?
Kennedy believes hydrogen is the ideal zero-emissions fuel as the product of its combustion is only water vapor. As explained, hydrogen is already fueling various modalities in California, Japan and across Europe―including autos, buses, trains, and aircraft―but its adoption in the marine environment has been slower to date.
Over the recent period there have been some projects exploring hydrogen as marine fuel in the passenger shipping industry, mostly ferries. Most notably, in September last year cruise ship owner Viking Cruises unveiled plans for a liquid hydrogen-fueled cruise ship, and earlier this year Ferguson Marine announced its plans on developing the world’s first renewables-powered hydrogen ferry – HySeas III.
However, it appears that the technology is still in its infancy.
“It is, indeed, early days but the early trials have been very promising. One of the reasons that ferries have been targeted for hydrogen trials is because they travel to the same ports of call over and over. This is critical, as it allows ferries to load hydrogen when they dock,” Kennedy said.
One of the key drawbacks in greater uptake of the technology are challenges related to storage and supply because hydrogen has to be kept at minus 253 degrees to prevent it from evaporating.
Keeping hydrogen in a liquid form through cooling and pressurization is both technically challenging and also expensive as the cooling alone uses up 18% of the available fuel.
“Storage has been one of the most difficult challenges in the broad adoption of hydrogen as a clean fuel. The small atomic size of hydrogen means that highly specialized materials have to be used to contain the molecules, and the low inter-molecular attraction means that the element has a low liquification point,” Kennedy said.
“In practice, three approaches have been used to store hydrogen: cryogenics where the liquid hydrogen is kept at -253 oC, pressurization of hydrogen gas, and containment or loading of hydrogen in metal hydrides or other molecular solid structure. All suffer major drawbacks. The need to keep liquid hydrogen at such low temperatures means that around 18% of the hydrogen is used just to provide the cooling. Gaseous pressurization requires triple-layer carbon fiber reinforced tanks that are bulky and expensive. While metal hydrides and other containment solids are often difficult and dangerous materials to work with.”
There are three means of using hydrogen for production: the direct combustion in an engine to drive the propellers directly or a diesel-electric drive train, the combustion to power a steam turbine, and the use of a fuel cell. All have been successfully tested, and all have proponents who preach their virtues, Kennedy pointed out.
“For larger vessels,” Kennedy continues,” the most suitable combination of technologies today would be a steam turbine for propulsion, a large-scale hydrogen engine, and a fuel cell for auxiliary power (so the turbines and engines do not need to be turning when the vessel is stationary).”
But there is rapid development occurring in the fuel cell sector, he added.
“It is quite possible that in the future this will become a standard for propulsion as well in a fuel cell electric or hybrid electric drive.”
Commenting on whether combustion engines powered by hydrogen are a better solution than batteries or fuel cells, Kennedy said different methods have different advantages.
“A fuel cell on a luxury yacht would be quieter; but an internal combustion engine might be more efficient and lower cost; and a turbine generator may prove to be more reliable with longer life and less maintenance required.”
In conclusion, Kennedy forecasts that many vessels will wind up using a combination of different hydrogen-powered technologies with batteries alongside as an energy buffer.
What is the key concept behind Hydrogen 2.0 technology, and could it work on bigger ships?
Joi Scientific has discovered a new method to produce hydrogen, called Hydrogen 2.0, that is on-demand, eliminating the storage problem. Namely, hydrogen is generated directly from seawater as needed. It is extracted at room temperature and without pressure. What is more, there is no need for shore-based infrastructure is required because the hydrogen is generated on-board.
“Since the fuel-stock for the on-demand production of our hydrogen system is from untreated seawater, maritime applications are an ideal starting point for bringing Hydrogen 2.0 technology to market,” he pointed out.
“What will make the most impact is a low-cost source of hydrogen where no storage is required. We believe that Joi Scientific has an answer to that.”
At the end of September, Joi Scientific announced that it had signed its first license agreement for its Hydrogen 2.0 production technology with MarineMax, the world’s largest boat and yacht retailer.
The license agreement grants MarineMax the exclusive rights to develop, manufacture, and sell propulsion and auxiliary boat power systems capable of running on hydrogen using Joi Scientific’s technology.
“Together with MarineMax we will work with co-development partners across the industry to bring hydrogen-based energy solutions to leading vendors in the marine industry,” Kennedy pointed out, adding that the advantage of Hydrogen 2.0 technology is that it is a modular system.
“Units can be scaled to the amount of energy required by each vessel’s design and application. As a result, we intend to apply it in ships of all sizes and tonnage. Hydrogen system components can be used in multiples to provide a volume of hydrogen gas required for various applications throughout the ship, whether propulsion, auxiliary or shore power.
“For large ships, the design and packaging of the components can be sized for peak energy utilization or can be sized to generate a continuous flow of hydrogen in which storage of hydrogen or electric power can be done during the cruise. In this manner, the stored energy can be used during times when acceleration is required. We realize that this approach appears to be counterintuitive. But think about it: your energy on-board is already topped up when you arrive in port rather than the other way around. There is no reason why the biggest oil tankers cannot be hydrogen-powered in the future, although that might be a little ironic.”
Next steps and goals for the future
As explained, the key focus now is on the productization of the Hydrogen 2.0. Now that the company has proven the system works, the goal is to fit it on board boats and ships in cooperation with MarineMax.
“We will be working closely together with a growing number of co-development partners to deliver the first boats and ships with on-board Hydrogen 2.0 generation capability.
“In terms of our plans for the future, we envision a wide range of marine applications from small to medium to large. Boats and vessels are just the beginning. We already have seen interest in a variety of other applications―from offshore electrical and clean water generation to improving and decarbonizing power for fish farms.
“There will be an evolution of uses for Hydrogen 2.0 technology with the ultimate goal of getting to full large-scale propulsion. First uses may be with small outboard engines and auxiliary power. The auxiliary power units can be used to generate heat, cooling, electricity, or water when at anchor or on-the-go without noise or emissions,” he concluded.
Interview by Jasmina Ovcina Mandra