At the speed of a big ol’ barge

Green hydrogen is to be used in particular where electrification by other means is not possible or only possible with great difficulty – for example in maritime applications. One of the greatest problems facing the shipping industry, however, is that there are only a few manufacturers who optimize their drive concepts for use on the water or design them specifically for this purpose, because the quantities demanded in this economic segment are generally not very large. How this dilemma could be solved is being discussed in, among other projects, e4ships and e4ports.

Hydrogen and fuel cell technology has now arrived in almost all divisions of technology. Accordingly, the two were presented and discussed during the SMM, the largest ship and maritime technology fair, that took place in Hamburg from Sep. 3rd to 6th. During the accompanying e4ships conference, for example, Achim Wehrmann, director for ship transport at the German transport ministry (BMDV), stated, “(The NIP project) e4ships has been running since 2009 and has shown that fuel cells are extremely important for maritime applications.” At the same time, he stressed, “The emissions in this sector need to be significantly reduced. And we need to be quicker about it.”

The search for the fuel of tomorrow

The main question in the industry at the moment is which fuel will be the fuel of the future? It is clear that the move away from fossil fuels such as heavy oil must be implemented as quickly as possible – but what should follow? Dr. Ralf Sören Marquardt, managing director of the German association for shipbuilding and maritime technology (Verband für Schiffbau und Meerestechnik eV, VSM), made clear that the current state of the industry is literally gloomy, as at present dirty clouds of exhaust gas still were obscuring the sun.

The ship companies and builders had been set on using LNG as the alternative, but ammonia, methanol, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), low-flashpoint diesel (LF diesel) and hydrogen are now being seriously considered. LPG, likewise to LF diesel, can in principle be renewably generated, but not yet however. Hermann-Josef Mammes from the shipyard Meyer Werft stated, “We need more and a diversity of different fuels.” He pled for more demonstration projects in this context so that the corresponding technologies could be better tested. Stated Mammes, “The sobering conclusion is that we are nowhere near the market ramp-up stage in this sector.”

Christian Allgeier from the BMDV replied that “safety comes first, before speed.” In his opinion, the current pace of development is not okay, which is why work is being done to accelerate it. At the same time, however, he said, “We don’t want anyone to be left behind.”

Much at this time still depends on the regulations that the International Maritime Organization (IMO), in which 175 nations are a part of, will set in the ship transport sector. Kurt-Christoph von Knobelsdorff, managing director of the German administrative agency for hydrogen and fuel cell technology (Nationale Organisation Wasserstoff- und Brennstoffzellentechnologie, NOW), stated, “Many regulations are undergoing revision at this time, including those for hydrogen.” Although they are striving for speed in this, it will take years before anything gets done. Dr. Christopher Stanik, NOW team leader for maritime applications, declared, “The strategy (of the IMO) is not fast enough, is not in line with the Paris Goals.”

Even more direct was VSM chief managing director Dr. Reinhard Lüken: “We must – especially on the regulatory side – be much faster. We are far behind.” Specifically, he criticized that it took “ten years to introduce the IGF code for a fuel that we had been using for years.” He also called for a change in the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities so that e-fuels could become viable in the maritime sector.

Marquardt said regarding the IMO, “The goal is correct, but the measures are not ambitious enough. We need more trust and less resistance.” Here, there is a “long list of unresolved problems.” As long as this framework is not established, there will be the challenge of having to build ships without having solid regulations, which could then always change case. VSM managing director Lüken stated: “If we continue to address tasks one after the other, we will not get things done fast enough. We need to accelerate. We need to achieve all this in less than ten years – and all in parallel. Money may not be the problem right now, but that we need better coordination.”

Bingbing Song from the International Maritime Organization stated that while the IMO does not tarry, the fact that the institution is working with so many different countries and other actors inevitably means that the coordination processes are extremely lengthy.

Zero-emission at the wharf

Subject of discussion are ports in addition to ships. In order to, for example, make shore power more sustainable, the network e4ports has been running since 2021, which among other things concerns itself with ideas and designs for the energy supply at ports as well as the implementation of EU guidelines. This should help ports become sustainable transport hubs. Since they are not only points of exchange, but also always energy sinks, they are ideal sites for energy renovation.

At the focus is how energy supply, particularly of large ships, is to occur at ports. As the running of diesel engines has been subject to heavy fines for several years due to emissions reduction laws, the supply of power for moored ships must be guaranteed by the shore side. For this, there are several approaches.

When the energy requirement is over 1.5 MW, mobile shore power solutions are generally not practical, since the cost can add up to around 50 cents per kWh. Therefore, stationary solutions are therefore more suitable for this high power segment. Mobile solutions, such as battery systems or trailers with alternative fuels, are more suitable “for smaller marinas or for areas of ports with lower utilization rates” – most import factor being a “highest possible capacity utilization of the systems, in order to be able to use them economically.” This was the conclusion of the study “Technologische Möglichkeiten und Voraussetzungen mobiler Landstromversorgung” (technological possibilities and preconditions for mobile shore power), which was presented during the e4ports conference.

Containerized fueling solutions of this kind are already widely established in the event sector, but in maritime use, they are still quite new. There aren’t any hydrogen solutions yet, however, with the exception of one example from GP Joule, who tried out an H2 Container at the rock festival Wacken.

Besides the supplying of power to ships in ports, the discussion is about the supply to vehicles on the grounds of the port. One-third of the CO2 savings can be achieved there through electrification and automation alone, and two-thirds through the use of alternative fuels. However, solutions for port vehicles with hydrogen as the alternative will probably not be available for another five or ten years, which is why when new equipment is purchased, conventional technology will still be in play in many cases. Down the line, however, increased electrification and possibly the acquisition of H2 systems awaits.

Question for the world

One question that was discussed but not answered during the e4ships event was whether cruise ships are really necessary. Is it really necessary for floating cities to encroach on what could have been untouched nature, or would a reorientation be desirable here?

H2-powered CTVs

Also at the WindEnergy that took place end of September (see p. 10), also on the Hamburg Messe grounds, was something to be seen from the maritime sector: the Hydrocat 48, the first hydrogen-powered crew transfer vessel (CTV). In May 2022, CMB.TECH, which is a Belgian company that converts special machinery and ships, announced together with Windcat Workboats that the CTV, after the successful tests, was immediately ready for operation. That is, to bring workers to their posts at offshore wind parks.

The Hydrocat 48 uses a dual-fuel engine from MAN that CMB.TECH equipped with an H2 injection system. CMB.TECH had retrofitted its first CTV to operate with hydrogen as early as 2017. The resulting technology from this was then installed in a Windcat MK3.5 workboat without incurring significant loss of performance or reliability, explained Frank Wiebe from FRS Windcat Offshore Logistics GmbH to H2-international.

“This vessel offers the industry a cost-effective solution to significantly reduce emissions from service vessels, which can be applied to any wind farm today. This solution can be seen as a steppingstone to fully hydrogen powered CTVs. By starting with dual fuel combustion engines, we can make hydrogen technology operational in the industry and kick-start further development of the technology, regulation, supply chain, etc.”

Willem van der Wel, managing director of Windcat Workboats

“The suitability of this technology for a CTV is mainly because existing diesel engines can be used. No fundamental changes to the main engine are required, which not only means that maintenance and repair remain simple, but also that the engine can easily be switched back to diesel fuel without any modifications. Even if hydrogen is not available, the vessel can continue to run on traditional fuel, making it a very robust and reliable solution for the offshore wind industry… From the initial dual-fuel technology projects we have seen reductions of CO2 emissions up to 80%.“

Roy Campe, managing director of CMB.TECH

One of the first H2 ships was the Hydroville, which has been shuttling around Antwerp for three years now. In 2021, it was joined by, among others, Hydrobingo. In the meantime, a total of four additional ships have been ordered, according to Wiebe. And since October 2022, Volva Penta, a subsidiary of the Volvo Group specializing in ship propulsion, has also been a cooperation partner.


Ninnemann, Jan, u. a., Mobile Landstromversorgung – Technologische Möglichkeiten und Voraussetzungen, NOW, Sept. 2022

Author: Sven Geitmann

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