A prototype vessel powered by zero-emission hydrogen could take to Norway’s coastal waters in a few years, ferrying cargo and delivering hydrogen supplies to strategic areas, after the EU’s research and innovation fund has doled out €8 million to the pilot project.
The good ship Topeka will run on a 1,000-kilowatt-hour battery and a specialised hydrogen fuel cell, which means the vessel would emit no greenhouse gas emissions from the moment it launches, currently scheduled for 2024.
Topeka’s designers – grouped under the HySHIP project – want the ship to fulfil two functions once at sea: it will ferry customer cargo between Norwegian ports and also deliver hydrogen sourced from clean energy to fuel bunkers along the coast.
Norway has numerous offshore installations, mostly oil and gas platforms but soon also windfarms, that require base-to-base operations. It means that there is an established maritime services network that is ripe for decarbonisation.
“Topeka will be our first step towards scalable LH2 [liquid green hydrogen] fuelled maritime operations. We shall create a full LH2 infrastructure and commercial ecosystem, while at the same time removing yearly some 25,000 trucks from the roads,” Per Brinchmann, vice-president of special projects at Wilhelmsen, the project’s coordinators, said in a statement.
Energy major Equinor is involved in the initiative too. Senior executive Frida Eklöf Monstad said that “this zero-emission vessel service will be a valuable demonstrator of the technology development supporting Equinor’s ambitions to move cargo from road to sea and to halve emissions from our maritime activities in Norway by 2030.”
To boost the team’s chances of pulling off the feat – no full-scale hydrogen-fuelled ships are currently in operation – the EU’s research programme, Horizon 2020, earmarked €8 million to help get the project up to speed. A final agreement is due later this year.
Topeka will not be the only ship that will benefit from the tranche of EU funding, HySHIP also wants to conduct studies into a smaller tanker barge for use on inland waterways, a fast ferry and a larger deep-sea vessel.
The maritime industry is slowly starting to come to terms with the need to reduce its environmental footprint, as governments and regulators tighten the climate screws on other parts of the economy, such as road transport and power generation.
In the EU, the sector could soon be folded into the bloc’s carbon market and operators forced to buy pollution permits for the first time, after the European Parliament voted in favour of the idea. The Commission will publish a proposal in 2021.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]