Monday, July 26, 2021

Liquid Hydrogen Bunkering Viewed as Potential to Enable Zero Emission Vessels

New Plan to be Revealed at COP26
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – With all eyes focused on the COP26 climate agenda conference later this year there will be many companies pitching their wares and opinions on how to drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the shipping sector.

One such will be Leicester headquartered Unitrove, a specialist in clean energy provision and now ready to showcase what it terms ground breaking liquid hydrogen technology at the Glasgow event with the world’s first liquid hydrogen bunkering facility for fuelling zero-emission ships.

Liquid Hydrogen is of course notoriously difficult to store, with problems such as boiloff and the need to vent excess gas. NASA Cryogenics Test Laboratory solved the problems with a combination of two technologies combining a specially developed thermal insulation system with a heat exchanger eliminating boiloff.

Unitrove says that having already successfully delivered the UK’s first liquefied natural gas bunkering facility at Teesport in May 2015 liquid hydrogen, LH₂, which has been used for decades as the propulsion fuel of choice for launching rockets and satellites into space, is only now being seriously explored for commercial heavy-duty mobility applications.

International shipping accounts for around one billion tonnes of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and contributes to around 400,000 premature deaths and 14 million cases of childhood asthma every year due to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), sulphur oxides (SOₓ), and nitrogen oxides (NOₓ) that arise from ship smokestacks, according to US research.

Steven Lua, CEO of Unitrove, says his ambition is to enable clean, affordable, reliable, and sustainable fuelling options for ships at every port in the world, and he has joined a growing band of industry figures who believe liquid hydrogen will play a vital role, especially for larger ocean going vessels. He says liquid hydrogen as a commercial fuel has been relatively unexplored as an option, but that it had great potential for many uses, including plugging the gap where electric and compressed hydrogen cannot reach, continuing:

“The global maritime sector is one of the most polluting in the world. It’s estimated that just a handful of the worst-polluting mega ships on our oceans today produce more pollution than all the world’s cars put together. That’s a staggering statistic, and one we simply cannot ignore if we stand any chance of achieving the net zero target set by the Government.

“It’s easy for people to forget about the issues that the sector brings because it’s not in the public eye and it requires international collaboration to solve. When the IMO 2020 regulations came into force, most ship operators did the bare minimum necessary. Liquid hydrogen has long been used to safely and successfully send rockets into space. The technology is mature, but the markets for its use are not.

"We already see very early signs of light-duty vessels being battery-driven or powered by compressed gaseous hydrogen, but liquid hydrogen will allow us to serve the heavier portion of the shipping fleet where we hope to have a much larger impact. We are also exploring options including ammonia, liquid organic hydrogen carriers, and solid hydrogen in the form of sodium borohydride. However, we understand that priority is currently being given to the development of international standards and regulations for pure hydrogen, and this could play a significant factor in the long run.

“We believe that hydrogen will be recognised as a global commodity that will be traded in the same way that natural gas is today. The bunker fuel market is worth an estimated $120 billion, so there is a huge opportunity not only in environmental and social terms, but also financially. The average lifespan of a large ship is anywhere between 20 to 40 years, meaning any ship procured today could potentially still be operating well beyond 2050. And there’s currently no drive for clean-fuel ships because there’s no clean-fuel bunkering infrastructure, it’s practically non-existent.

“Without zero-emission fuelling infrastructure, there will be no drive for zero-emission ships. In terms of infrastructure, there’s nothing significant in place today, and we are here to change that. Our liquid hydrogen bunkering facility being unveiled at COP26 will be a real flag in the sand.”

Photo: A giant hydrogen storage tank at Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Image courtesy of NASA/Kim Shiflett.