Decarbonisation is more than political, it is existential, and the designers and engineers developing low-carbon vessel options are working to break the sector’s hydrocarbon fuel habit
Innovation for next-generation
Panellists from the Innovation for next-generation vessels session at Riviera Maritime Media’s Annual Offshore Support Journal Conference, Awards and Exhibition 2023 covered an array of projects, both conceptual and real-world, that are aimed at pushing the shipping sector and the offshore fleet towards emitting fewer greenhouse gases.
Opening the session, Breeze Ship Design consultancy head of electrical and control systems Arve Ytrehus was unequivocal in accepting the sector’s responsibility to lower its emissions despite the challenges of designing for new fuels and technologies.
Building a vessel is a complex endeavour, Mr Ytrehus said, and “then, when we introduce a new fuel, it becomes even more complex”.
With myriad options offering decarbonisation potential and many that have comparatively few running hours on board working vessels, Mr Ytrehus said it is very important “not to tunnel vision on one fuel alternative.”
“We need to be fuels diverse,” he said. “We need to make a giant leap forward.”
Breeze is an unofficial part of the ShipFC project, a six-year study funded by the EU’s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 under its Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking grant funding. The work of the design consultancy involves developing a green ammonia energy system on board platform supply vessel (PSV) Viking Energy.
As ShipFC project research partners at the UK’s University of Strathclyde put it, “The project will see an offshore vessel, Viking Energy, which is owned and operated by Eidesvik and on contract to energy major Equinor, have a large 2-MW ammonia fuel cell retrofitted, allowing it to sail solely on the clean fuel for up to 3,000 hours annually.”
In fact, the design, according to Breeze, will be for two solid-oxide fuel cells connected to a single fuel tank for the green ammonia.
Among the challenges of utilising ammonia as a fuel, the best known and most dangerous is that it is noxious and can be deadly to humans in small quantities, even when diffused in air.
Acknowledging this, Mr Ytrehus said a primary goal for designing the system is the demand “to find a good method to protect the entire fuel mechanism… to make sure there is no exposure to ammonia”.
In short, the project, Mr Ytrehus said, offers a great deal of uncertainty. But, Breeze is determined.
“We will still find a way; we have to find a way,” he said.
From the challenges of ammonia, Corvus Energy senior vice president of sales Efraim Kanestrøm turned to the progress his company is making in commercialising an inherently gas safe fuel-cell system for maritime vessels.
In April, the company announced it had received approval in principle from classification society DNV for its work in bringing together proton-exchange membrane fuel cells produced by Japanese car company Toyota with gas safety design principles from LNG ships through the Norwegian government-funded H2NOR project.
According to Corvus, H2NOR is scheduled to run pilot sailings with the first inherently gas safe marine fuel cell system on board a vessel in 2023, which will take place alongside marine type-approval of the product. If the timeline holds, the product will be commercially available from 2024, resulting in further expansion of Corvus’ factories to manufacture marine battery and fuel-cell systems for all types of commercial marine vessels.
Mr Kanestrøm described the milestone as “a small moon landing” for the company.
“As it’s inherently gas safe, we can place it anywhere on the vessel we want. You don’t need any ventilation… you don’t have to have it on deck, which you need on many fuel-cell systems,” he said.
The fuel-cell system is the first designed to be inherently gas safe, meaning that the surrounding machinery space will be considered gas safe under all conditions. The design also reduces the number of requirements for safety and ventilation support systems on board.
Mr Kanestrøm also outlined a case study of a cost comparison project between a PSV powered by a combination of hydrogen and battery systems, solely by batteries or traditional diesel. Factoring in a carbon tax, the propulsion costs of batteries were lowest, with the hybrid H2-battery power combination propulsion achieving virtual parity with the costs of powering the PSV with traditional diesel.
The results of the case study led the company to the conclusion that a “zero-emissions PSV is possible with today’s technologies”.
Turning to the future, Ulstein Group chief designer Øyvind Gjerde Kamsvåg presented on the nuclear-powered concept that garnered industry attention in 2022.
In late April 2022, Ulstein published a concept design for a vessel powered by a thorium molten salt reactor (MSR) that could, in theory, enable zero-emissions cruise operations by operating as a mobile power charging station for battery-driven cruise ships.
Named Ulstein Thor, the 149-m 3R (replenishment, research and rescue) design’s MSR would generate excess electricity. This would enable the vessel to operate as a mobile power charging station for battery-driven cruise ships.
To demonstrate its feasibility, Ulstein developed the Ulstein Sif concept, a 100-m, 160-person, 80-passenger capacity, zero-emissions expedition cruise ship. The Ice Class 1C vessel is designed with a future generation of batteries that would allow for longer operation times, and the vessel would use Thor’s excess MSR energy to recharge while at sea.
Ulstein believes the concept design may represent a missing piece in the zero-emissions puzzle for a broad range of maritime and ocean industry applications, but that it “comes down to scalability, size and capacity”.
In terms of the timeline, Mr Kamsvåg said the company believes the technology could be available in five years and implemented in 10 years.
“But it’s all about incentives,” he said.
“We expect flag states will be the pioneers. We see there are a lot of possibilities and obstacles. If there’s enough motivation, if the incentives are there, it can happen,” he said.
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