Monday, September 2, 2019

Lifeline Freight and Passenger RoRo Ferry Routes Look to Hydrogen Power

Desire to Maintain a Pristine Environment with Sustainable Energy
Shipping News Feature
UK – With the protection of the environment currently very much to the fore, one of the places in Britain which sees a diverse abundance of wildlife in land, sea and air is the group of islands which lay off Scotland's west coast. Now a study has been conducted to evaluate the use of hydrogen powered RoRo ferries on the lifeline freight and passenger routes which service them from the mainland in a bid to protect this unique habitat.

The region is also home to an ever burgeoning collection of on and offshore energy farms, operators keen to harness the natural weather patterns which see a series of near continuous high winds blow through. The now published SWIFTH2 feasibility study, undertaken earlier this year by the Point and Sandwick Trust in collaboration with a range of partners, looks at the viability of using the electricity produced to create a zero-emission fuel source for a new class of hydrogen-powered ferry operating on one of the established routes.

Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. (CMAL) the holding company for CalMac Ferries which leases 31 ships from it and which operates the routes both to and from the mainland and between a range of the islands, is a participant in the study and provided data relating to 11 vessels operating on nine different ferry routes for evaluation. These ranged from the relatively short crossing between Gigha and Tayinloan, to the longer crossing and largest vessel between Stornoway and Ullapool. This allowed for a representative sample of ferries in the West Coast of Scotland to be analysed.

The report looked in detail at the energy and bunkering requirements, and essentially the on board storage of, what is after all, a fuel with a chequered history. The initial assessment concluded that of the routes analysed, the two most viable ferry routes for conversion to hydrogen are Barra to Eriskay and Stornoway to Ullapool. It found the potential emissions savings from replacement of the Barra - Eriskay and Stornoway - Ullapool routes with hydrogen vessels are ~676 and ~21,815 tonnes of CO2 per annum respectively.

The study was part-funded by the Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme and is believed to be the first to look at a totally inclusive package, with the wind farms designed and built specifically to supply the energy requirement of the ferries concerned. The smaller Barra to Eriskay route would only require a single 4.3 MW turbine, contrasted to the Isle of Lewis service which would need 15 such generators.

Despite its green credentials the cost of producing the hydrogen does not compare particularly favourably with traditional marine diesel. Even if subsidised by the UK government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation mechanism estimated cost per kilowatt-hour would be between £0.09 -0.12p, as against diesel’s current £0.05p per kWh estimated price.

However we have already seen attitudes toward fossil fuels changing rapidly, the IMO’s incoming sulphur cap for example, and the pressure to ‘green up’ will doubtless increase rapidly, prompting Point and Sandwick Trust, Project Manager Calum MacDonald to say:

“This is an exciting first step towards a future where zero-emission ferries are serving the Western Isles using hydrogen sourced from local and renewable wind power. We need to make our ferries zero-carbon to protect the planet but at the same time we need to use our local, renewable resources to fuel those ferries to protect and strengthen our communities.

"When we have the best renewable resources in Europe on these islands, it would be crazy to replace the import of marine oil with the import of hydrogen. By sourcing the power locally we can create a virtuous and sustainable cycle that benefits both the nation and local communities.

“The most exciting finding of the study is that the price gap between using imported oil and local renewables is smaller than many would have expected. To close that gap even more we need further progress in the economics of wind farm and hydrogen production, we need to see the climate consequences of marine oil reflected in its pricing and, of course, we need progress in the design and manufacture of ships to make them more energy-efficient.

“I have no doubt that we will continue to see rapid progress being made in these areas and, as they happen, it is essential that local communities are supported and motivated to take advantage of the new hydrogen economy.”

Photo: The wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag which provides the charitable Point and Sandwick Trust with the income it needs to fund projects in the Western Isles, with over a £1 million donated so far.