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Marine Environment & Fuels

Le hydrogène: Le Futur

PLANS are quietly developing in France to build a 200 passenger ferry powered only with hydrogen fuel cells.  HighSeas Energy is working with a group of collaborators and hope to announce the start of construction of the vessel later in 2018. The France-flagged vessels will operate exclusively in French waters, in the area of Toulon Bay on the Mediterranean coast.

Arnaud Vasquez, founder of High Seas energy launched the company two years ago. Things were very quiet the first year he says, but this year there has been a real buzz of activity around fuel cells and alternative propulsion in the small ship markets.  Vasquez believes the project is two years away form having a commercial vessel in service with the capability of running for about 10 hoursoff a 500kW fuel cell and a 300 kg compressed hydrogen tank.

The vessel High Seas hopes to build will be only abut 26 tonnes in weight, so not a large vessel by any means, but it will, says Vasquez demonstrate the commercial viability of hydrogen fuel cells in the industry.

One of the partners in this quiet project is Engie, the French energy firm which will be generating hydrogen in the port area, and providing it in compressed gas for the vessel, while also using it to generate an equal amount of electricity for the French grid.

It will be green hydrogen, says Vasquez, rather than blue or brown (different terms for how carbon neural the hydrogen production is).

Other ferry companies are already interested in what HighSeas is doing. In the Orkney islands north of Scotland hydrogen is being made from seawater and a renewable energy system that creates electricity from the massive tidal flows in between the islands of the Orkney’s.

In a project called “Surf n Turf” the tidal energy from a company called ScotRenewables is used to generate Hydrogen, which is stored into racks of compressed gas containers.  These are then driven to Kirkwall and used to keep the Orkney ferry on shore power overnight.

The plan is to eventually renew the vessels with hydrogen fuel cell powered ferries, using locally produced green hydrogen as  the fuel.

First though the ferry company needs to work with the authorities such as the maritime and coastguard authorities to create both the courses for crew raining, to make them competent in using hydrogen fuel, and the regulations for using the technology.

This is an issue that  Vasquez also recognises. Hydrogen has a regulatory gap to fill, he says, hence the push to build a ferry that will abide by international rules as much as they are relevant, but built according to France’s national rules n hydrogen.

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