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Hunting the wind, making hydrogen

Japanese researchers thinking outside the box have designed a wind-powered vessel that can make hydrogen while sailing the oceans.

Japanese researchers and engineers are working on a project that could see a wind-powered vessel generate hydrogen. The system under development is to produce carbon dioxide free hydrogen on a large sail powered vessel where the sails produce both thrust for the ship and the power to generate electricity to power to create a chemical hydrogen carrier.

The chemistry

The process will use toluene, an aromatic hydrocarbon that consists of seven carbon and eight hydrogen atoms in a C6H5CH3 arrangement. The vessel will carry cargo tanks filled with toluene which then uses electrolysis, from the wind-generated electricity, to create MCH (methylcyclohexane or C7H14CH3) which has three additional hydrogen (3H2) molecules attached. The MCH is stored in the ships tanks and then discharged ashore where the hydrogen molecules are separated, to reform toluene which can be then loaded back onto the ship for the process to be repeated.

The vessel has the tentative name Wind Hunter as it’s objective is to hunt for the wind to be able to create the electricity for the electrolysis.

Design and cost

The ship design will use the retractable sail arrangement used in another Japanese project Wind Challenger, which has now been issued an “approval in Principle” from Class NK. The vessel is a catamaran-like arrangement with a turbine rotor on the bow of each hull.

While the calculations seen by Fathom World suggest significant turbine power – up to 32MW and 253 tons MCH a day – the costs are currently significant.

Total construction costs including sails, water turbine arrangement, hydrogen plant and hull design would be as high as $150m, which with an assumed electricity price of $0.05kWh gives a payback of just over 17 years. However should electricity costs rise, and as governments push for more dramatic solutions to meet the greenhouse crisis this solution may become feasible as a way to generate hydrogen for both transport and electricity production.

wind-powered hydrogen maker ship
Making hydrogen to push a turbine through the water to create electricity needed to convert toluene to MCH, a hydrogen carrier. Image courtesy IWSA

Image courtesy of International Wind Ship Association

About Author

Craig Eason Stockholm
Craig Eason is the owner and editorial director of Fathom.World. He has a background in the shipping industry having started his career as a cadet on oil tankers and gas carriers before becoming a navigating officer on a range of vessel types. A change in career, with ensuing university studies, and he has now gained 20 years experience in written and broadcast journalism. He now is in demand as a knowledgeable and competent editor and event host and moderator, both for in-house events and ones for the public.