Hydrogen fuel and the future of yachting
Author: Millie Wootton
Are you interested in offering your clients a voyage that seamlessly blends diesel and electric power, resulting in not only reduced emissions but also enhanced performance and a smoother onboard experience? Enter the world of hydrogen fuel technology – a game-changing propulsion system that promises to redefine yachting while treading lightly on our planet.
Hydrogen hybrid yachts stand as the vanguard of the yachting industry. Owners, designers and shipyards envision a more carbon neutral future through making eco-conscious, technological efforts and advances. Hybrid propulsion, a hallmark of this movement, integrates both diesel and electric power, leading to reduced emissions, improved range, performance and comfort on board! Even better, different hybrid motors can be configured toward different aims such as better fuel efficiency or more power/cruising range – tailoring towards an owner’s taste. One of the greatest additional benefits of hybrid electric systems is a smooth, manoeuvrable and silent running. This is ideal for overnight travel or a peaceful day anchored at sea or moored in a marina. Not only are these hybrid systems better for the environment, but they also benefit the customer experience!
Employing diverse variants of electric motors and batteries, hybrid propulsion systems embody a spectrum of options. One type of propulsion system that is particularly innovative and green is hydrogen propulsion. This is whereby hydrogen gas is used as a fuel source to generate electricity which in turn powers the electric motors to propel a hybrid vessel.
Hydrogen Production: Why it’s a Game Changer for Yachting
Hydrogen itself is the most abundant chemical element on earth and contributes 75% of the mass of the universe! Hydrogen gas is what is required to fuel these systems and can be produced as blue or green hydrogen.
Blue hydrogen through processes such as steam methane reformation or autothermal reformation produces carbon as a by-product – necessitating carbon capture and storage to ensure this is a sustainable solution.
Green hydrogen, however, is produced by using electricity to power an electrolyser that splits the hydrogen from water molecules – producing pure hydrogen – with no by-products, no noise, no emissions, and no fine particles! This method also offers the potential to divert any excess electricity to electrolysis to create hydrogen gas that can be stored for future use – totally renewable. So, producing hydrogen gas is an extremely sustainable source of fuel!
The core of a hydrogen propulsion system is the fuel cell stack. A fuel cell is an electro-chemical device that converts the chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity. It consists of multiple individual cells connected. When hydrogen gas is supplied; a chemical reaction occurs between these cells and produces: electricity, water vapour and heat! This resultant electricity can then be sent to the electric motor and used to power the vessel smoothly and silently – like an electric car. In essence, this means vessels can surge forward with an impeccable sustainability record, exemplifying a truly emissions-free journey.
Here’s an example
The Italian shipyard Baglietto has launched a ‘BZERO’ project; investing in technology that converts seawater (H2O) into power. This is through the utilisation of hydrogen-powered propulsion systems. Baglietto has presented a shore-based prototype of a green hydrogen production module that will be at the core of its onboard fuel cell technology. They proclaim that building this technology now is imperative for the future of the industry - and we agree!
The aim is to have this technology on the water by 2025, increasing the electric cruising range of vessels in zero-emission mode through the use of hydrogen fuel cell technology on a hybrid platform.
This propulsion system involves a hydrogen production module that produces hydrogen from seawater through a system of electrolysers. These electrolysers themselves are powered by energy from other renewable sources – such as photovoltaic panels or batteries – hence producing ‘green’ hydrogen, in an entirely green system.
So, let's weigh it all up: advantages vs disadvantages
We can deduce that hydrogen propulsion offers numerous advantages in its operation such as:
- Far longer ranges compared to battery electric vehicles
- Zero emissions at point of use
- Faster refuelling times
- Versatility of production
- Potential solution for heavy-duty applications like shipping and long-haul transportation
- Reduced noise
However, of course there are some disadvantages when adopting such a new, innovative technology, such as the challenges with producing the hydrogen itself and ensuring this is environmentally friendly. Challenges also lie within building the infrastructure for hydrogen refuelling. Of course, high financial costs are also a significant challenge – however, these are expected to decrease with time. This makes the initial adoption of these technologies harder for charter companies to secure and establish.
In summary, hydrogen propulsion offers extremely promising benefits that have the capacity to drastically transform the yachting industry’s sustainability and environmental impact, with the primary goal of reduced emissions. The associated extensive advantages are also attractive to owners when improving the customer experience and the vessel’s operations in general – enhancing the appeal of such propulsion systems greatly!
Developing prototype systems and encouraging these technologies onto the water is a fantastic way to utilise the power of innovation to make the yachting and maritime industry far more environmentally friendly and designed towards a sustainable future. This is the future of yachting!