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What is H2SHIPS all about?

H2SHIPS is an EU Project funded by Interreg North-West Europe and will develop an infrastructure for shipping using hydrogen propulsion that can drastically reduce pollution and improve our air and water quality.

What is the purpose of this site?

This site is a resource for learning about hydrogen in shipping; a place where ports interested in participating can apply to get involved in the H2SHIPS Project and a place where specialists and laypeople can find a rich repository of legislative, educational and technical materials relating to hydrogen and fuel cells in shipping. The site is also a portal for sharing the H2SHIPS Project outputs.

What’s the economic view?

Isn’t hydrogen too expensive?

No doubt – it is currently cheaper for a ship owner to sail on non-road diesel than on hydrogen. However, the industrialisation and deployment of emission-free hydrogen technologies will reduce its production cost and its use in transport. This process has already started and will be reinforced with national and European hydrogen roadmaps. 

It is true however that as long as there are large amounts of easy-to-use fossil fuels available, any alternative will seem cheaper if we consider only the direct costs for the end user. If the indirect costs due to fossil fuels (effects of local air pollution and global climate change) are also considered, then the balance is different. A political will is thus necessary to trigger the industrialization of Hydrogen as an energy vector, which will result in lower costs

Hydrogen technology is not advanced enough to power a ship, is it?

Hydrogen powered vessels already exist and are in operation, for example Alsterwasser in Hamburg, Nemo H2 in Amsterdam, Jules Verne 2 in France etc. These demonstration projects have shown that the technology works. Now it is time to determine the most suitable technical solutions for different applications and types of ships. For that purpose, several projects are currently in development in Europe, with a focus on big size fuel cell stacks and the use of different forms of H2 storage (compressed, cryogenic liquid, liquid organic carriers, ammonia, solid)  
See study on the use of fuel cells in shipping

How about safety?

Isn’t hydrogen gas too dangerous to store and use?

Hydrogen is no more dangerous than other flammable fuels, but has specific intrinsic properties. Hydrogen has already widely been used for decades in the aerospace industry as well as in the chemical industry for producing ammonia, methanol, and hydrochloric acid. Due to this, an infrastructure to produce, transport and use hydrogen already exists, with a good safety record – for instance hundreds of kilometres of hydrogen pipelines have been operated in Europe for 70 years. This experience and the existing norms and procedures can be used to safely develop further infrastructure in sectors like mobility, buildings etc…

Doesn’t hydrogen technology require far more testing to ensure it’s safe?

Safety measures for the handling and use of hydrogen already exist thanks to decades of experience due to industrial uses of hydrogen. For new applications of Hydrogen, in particular in transport, any new product entering the market must undergo stringent testing and approval processes.

Can hydrogen in transport ever be as safe as conventional fuels?

Any type of fuel is dangerous. Some of the specific properties of Hydrogen are favourable compared to diesel – for instance it is non-toxic, and if released in an open environment it will disperse much more rapidly than gasoline vapour, thus reducing the risk of fire. On the other hand, Hydrogen is a very small molecule with low viscosity, and therefore prone to leakage, which makes it more difficult to handle and to store. Overall, there is no property of Hydrogen which can’t be managed properly with appropriate measures – like for conventional fuels. Hydrogen safety in transport is subject to norms and regulations like any type fuel.

Doesn’t hydrogen combust terribly easily?

The auto-ignition temperature of Hydrogen is very similar to that of natural gas. Compared to other fuels, hydrogen has a high heat of combustion, and a large flammability range – between 4 and 75 volume % of hydrogen, which increases the risk of ignition of a hydrogen cloud in air. On the other hand, due to its high diffusion velocity, a cloud of Hydrogen leaking from a tank into the air would dissipate much quicker than other flammable vapours, thus again reducing the risk of ignition. It is thus not straightforward to say whether Hydrogen’s specific combustion properties make it more or less dangerous than other more conventional fuels.

What about efficiency?

Isn’t the process of converting renewables into hydrogen (and then using it for power) terribly inefficent?

For hydrogen production, storage and subsequent conversion into electricity, the efficiency is currently a maximum of 43%. It is assumed that in future electrical overall efficiencies up to 49 to 55% will be achieved.

From a pure perspective of energy balance, it will always be more efficient to use directly the electricity than to transform it to Hydrogen. However, the capacity of hydrogen to be stored either in gaseous or liquid forms, allows for more energy than batteries providing more autonomy. There are many applications (especially shipping, railroads, heavy road transportation) where Hydrogen is advantageous if we consider not only the efficiency, but also the environmental impact, operational constraints (filling/reloading time), overall costs, and often the mere technical feasibility.

There are now a number of electric ships – why bother with hydrogen?

Most of hydrogen powered vessel are actually electric propulsion vessels, where the energy for propulsion is mainly stored in the form of hydrogen, and transformed into electricity via a fuel cell. In this configuration a battery is needed anyway to serve as buffer between the fuel cell and the motor. The choice of how much energy should be stored in the battery and how much under the form of hydrogen then strongly depends on the operational needs of the ship, having in mind that: 1) it is much quicker to fill a hydrogen tank than to load a battery 2) fuel cell + H2 storage solutions become more advantageous, in particular in terms of embarked mass, as the amount of stored energy increases (i.e. the longer the requested range, the more interesting it is to choose Hydrogen).

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