In the shipping industry, the decision of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to limit sulfur emissions from fuel to 0.5% by 2020 will influence the business of all companies. This regulation will affect container ships that will have to change the engines or put sulfur cleaning systems in their exhaust if they have to comply with the new directives.
But what other options are there in the market? Electric motors are already available today , but most of the boats require a very high maximum speed that has not yet been reached; as well as an electrical installation of great dimensions that suppose a high costs for high powers, explained Indalecio Seijo Jordán , Captain of the Spanish Navy , during the last Meeting with the Sea organized by the Spanish Maritime Cluster on the propulsion systems hybrids
However, “looking for a lower CO2 footprint and a cheaper version, mixing hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, may be an option. In the next 20 or 25 years the advances that are promised can be spectacular, “he said.
96% of merchant ships in service are powered by mechanical systems in which a fuel derived from oil feeds one or more engines (usually 2 or 4-stroke diesel). Most of the remaining 4% are diesel-electric propulsion, in which the power generated by the main engine is converted into electricity to give the ship great maneuverability.
However, other energy alternatives are being developed that could boost the ships of the future, and one of them is hydrogen: a promising fuel source that has existed for quite some time, but has never found a solid base on which to lean. , since technology and prices were not convincing for traditional operators.
In recent times, hydrogen fuel cells are presented as the best option for truck fleets and in confined spaces such as ports, airports and warehouses where hydrogen forklifts help reduce emissions. The long-term cost of hydrogen-powered equipment is in line with equipment that runs on diesel, which makes it an attractive alternative. In addition, hydrogen produced on a large scale by electrolysis from renewable sources is now parity with diesel for the automotive industry, buses and trucks.
However, in the maritime industry, fossil fuel is much cheaper and more practical compared to hydrogen fuel cells, which hinders the latter’s promotion to the shipping industry in general. This fuel is also easy to acquire and store, it is easy to pump in atmospheric conditions because it is a liquid and it is also less expensive. However, with the regulation of IMO and the growing start of local environmental regulations, the hydrogen fuel industry knows that it must be prepared for greater penetration.
The pilot tests are in Europe. Norway has been one of the pioneers, as government policies and industry participation have helped push forward the introduction of zero-emission ships that run on hydrogen fuel cells. But until 2020 the first hydrogen-powered high-speed route in the Scandinavian country is not expected to be a reality. The second is for container ships on short-haul routes between Scandinavia and Western Europe to operate in part with hydrogen fuel.
“Having demonstrated the technical feasibility of fuel cells in shipbuilding, the use of hydrogen seems to be geared towards its use and the generation of synthetic fuels. The studies done until now determine that proton and high temperature are the most suitable for the marine industry, “concluded Jorge Dahl, Business Development Manager of DNV GL at the Meeting of the Spanish Maritime Cluster.