Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hydrogen Power for Experimental Vessel Generated by the Water She Sails On

Two Revolutionary European Projects Take Shape
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – FRANCE – NORWAY – The FLAGSHIPS project, funded by the EU to help make water borne commercial craft more eco friendly, and which we reported on last year, is taking strides towards its twin aims of creating a hydrogen fuel cell and power system for a Norwegian public ferry service and developing a push boat for barges in the Lyon region.

The French project aims to operate in Lyon shuttling empty and loaded barges from the loading cranes to the standby area and in other highly visible roles in the French city. It will use two 200 kW fuel cells connected to a mobile compressed-hydrogen fuel tank. This fuel tank can be removed and refilled with green hydrogen which will be created at an electrolysis plant using power from the Rhône hydroelectric dams.

The proponents of the technology call this ‘a truly virtuous circle’ operating on a river which is more than just one of Europe’s great rivers flowing from the glaciers of Switzerland to the French coastline. It is also one of France’s major trade arteries and a significant source of renewable electricity for the country.

On the 276 kilometre stretch between the port of Marseille and Lyon, two of the three biggest cities in France, 11 hydroelectric power stations generate clean electricity feeding off the river’s natural power. There is also a regular convoy of barges being pushed up and down the river between these two great cities, imported cargo upstream and cargo for export downstream. When these barges reach Lyon they are dropped off, and the river tugs pick up another and head off south to the coast.

It is in this scenario in Lyon where these barges get moved between convoy positions and loading cranes, that a unique, hydrogen fuel-cell powered push-boat is scheduled to soon become operational. Victor Laravoire, Newbuilding Project Manager at transport group Sogestran, which owns subsidiary Compagnie Fluviale De Transport, a member of the FLAGSHIPS project, and future owner of the hydrogen push boat, points to the ‘virtuous circle’ of this project.

“The great river’s water flow will create the energy, which will create the hydrogen which then is used on a barge on the river. On the barge the water formed in the fuel cell reaction to create power is then returned to the river as the bi-product from the fuel cell."

The push-boat design will be for a mobile fuel tank with a 300kg compressed hydrogen capacity, enough to power the pusher tug for two weeks says Laravoire. When it is empty it will be replaced by a second tank, and the first one taken by road to the refilling station located just beside the dock area to be refilled with compressed hydrogen.

As this pusher-tug will operate in the city centre of Lyon, one of its other proposed roles will be for the municipal authorities dealing with special garbage barges on the city’s riverside, safety has to be a priority. Laravoire continues:

”We are working closely with the French administration and with class as there are no rules on how to put hydrogen on these vessels. We want to be sure we do not miss anything. We are helping build the next set of safety rules for the use of hydrogen-powered fuel cells.”

Expertise from several European countries has come together to create one of the most viable and demonstrable commercial hydrogen-fuel cell marine solutions. With the design of the push tug quite well advanced, CFT has tenders out for a yard to build the vessel and have delivery in mid-2021.

Meanwhile work continues on the Norwegian project, this vessel powered by three of the 200 kW fuel cells, as opposed to the French vessel’s two. The Scandinavian ferry group involved, Norled, which already uses battery power on some of its craft, is looking at the possibility to replace biodiesel with hydrogen on one of the ferries to be built for the Finnøy-route north east of Stavanger.

The route serves several islands with short and several stops, which makes it difficult to realise the effective shore charging required for battery-powered vessels. Norled’s intention is to apply the hydrogen technology being developed by the company in several other ongoing hydrogen-related projects, such as building the world’s first ship powered by liquid hydrogen for the Hjelmeland connection in Western Norway.

FLAGSHIPS is a €6.8 million project under the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework programme.

Photo: Ferry design by LMG Marine.