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New-four stroke engine: Turning hydrogen sceptics into believers

New-four stroke engine: Turning hydrogen sceptics into believers
A new medium-speed, dual-fuel engine will underpin the use of hydrogen as fuel for coastal shipping and cold ironing applications

Hydrogen is a promising alternative fuel for meeting shipping’s decarbonisation ambitions, but for many, the technology and supply challenges make it a distant reality. A new four-stroke, dual-fuel engine launched in September, that will have the capability to burn both hydrogen and diesel, could well convert these skeptics into believers.

“Seeing is believing,” said CMB chief executive Alexander Saverys. Speaking to Marine Propulsion, Mr Saverys said the launch event was critical because shipowners and the marine industry in general are conservative by nature. “Some need to touch the engine to be convinced that it is technology they can implement in their vessels,” he said.

At a press event, BeHydro, a joint venture between medium-speed engine producer ABC and shipping line CMB, announced the commercial launch of dual-fuel BeHydro engines for marine, rail and power generation applications.

Over the past three years, BeHydro has developed, produced and tested a prototype hydrogen-diesel engine with a capacity of 1 MW. With the launch of the engine, the JV expects to scale up this technology to produce engines of up to 10 MW.

BeHydro estimates it will have the capacity to produce 100 engines annually, with plans to release a zero-emission engine with spark ignition that will burn only hydrogen by Q2 2021. “There is no NOx, no hydrocarbons, no particulates and no CO2 emissions,” said Mr Berckmoes, describes the hydrogen-powered engine as “heaven on earth.” The hydrogen fuel engine will be available in the power range of 1 MW to 2.7 MW.

ABC chief executive Tim Berckmoes said the engine is “based on proven-diesel engine technology, so very safe, easy to operate, and the investment cost is quite low.”

The first two BeHydro marine engines, 2 MW primer movers, will be installed in a hydrogen-powered tug, Hydrotug, for the Port of Antwerp.

CMB also expects to refit BeHydro engines in its own fleet. Headquartered in Antwerp, privately held CMB owns a fleet of dry bulk carriers, container ships and chemical tankers. While these ships use two-stroke engine technology for main propulsion, Mr Saverys, noted many are also equipped with three to four auxiliary engines. “That’s a lot of engines that can be retrofitted,” he said.

Besides the engines, BeHydro will be providing the complete tanks for the compressed hydrogen, gas supply systems and engineering. Mr Saverys confirmed that the fuel tanks will be sourced from a North American supplier.

Green and blue hydrogen

BeHydro has not as yet selected a partner to supply the hydrogen. “We are keeping our options open,” said Mr Saverys. “First and foremost, this is still a pioneering technology for ships, and there are no bunkering or refuelling facilities available.”

Added Mr Saverys: “We have been talking with a number of people about the supply of hydrogen in some major European ports and on the west coast of the US. There’s a great deal of interest in San Francisco. We are going to keep an open mind because the more options we have, the better it is.”

Mr Saverys said one of the short-term challenges for the industry involved the availability of green hydrogen, which is produced from water using renewable energy. “But I do think that in the next couple of years, with all of the initiatives that we’ve seen, we will see more and more hydrogen coming to market,” he added.

Mr Saverys, however, said that BeHydro engines will use blue hydrogen from the chemical industry. Blue hydrogen is made from natural gas via a steam methane reforming process in which CO2 emissions are captured and stored or reused. Carbon offsets can also be applied to make blue hydrogen a carbon neutral product.

“Hydrogen, or green ammonia for larger applications, have a lot more possibilities than LNG”

Mr Saverys said BeHydro has been discussing its dual-fuel, hydrogen-diesel technology with a number of ship owners and with others outside shipping. “There’s tremendous interest,” he said.

An outspoken critic of LNG as a marine fuel, Mr Saverys bluntly noted: “I think it’s a waste of time and waste of money. It is a solution which has been imposed as an alternative to diesel.” He added: “People are realising that it’s not the ‘be all and end all’ solution and are looking at alternatives. I think hydrogen or green ammonia for larger applications have a lot more possibilities than LNG.”

By injecting and burning compressed hydrogen, the medium-speed BeHydro dual-fuel engines will produce 85% less CO2 emissions than a standard diesel engine. In the mono-fuel version, burning only hydrogen, CO2 emissions will be cut 100%.

Cleaner cold ironing

Mr Saverys believes ports can also benefit from using Behydro engines for cold ironing applications: “We actually think that a mobile electricity solution along the quay is much, much cheaper and more flexible than pulling electricity cables at every single terminal.”

He envisages the mobile solution as either land-based or barge-based: “More and more, we have to go to zero emissions in port. In Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp, we realised we should look at a more flexible and cheaper solution.”

Through its innovation arm CMB.Tech, CMB is also working on other hydrogen-powered vessel projects.

CMB.Tech is collaborating with Japanese shipbuilder Tsuneishi Facilities & Craft on the construction of a hydrogen-powered passenger ferry for delivery in 2021.

CMB is also developing the hydrogen-powered crew transfer vessel Hydrocat 1 with Windcat Workboats, a unit of US-based OSV owner SEACOR Marine. The CTV will use a smaller dual-fuel hydrogen-diesel, with the capability of using ‘green hydrogen’ produced by renewable energy as a fuel.

CMB also owns Hydroville, the first seagoing, dual-fuel diesel hydrogen passenger vessel, commissioned in 2017.

With the development of the four-stroke BeHydro engines, CMB is taking the technology one step further towards making hydrogen a broader reality for a larger swath of shipping.

Mr Saverys said: “BeHydro reinforces the recently announced EU vision on hydrogen and proves that the energy transition for large-scale applications is possible today. These include main engines for coastal shipping, inland shipping and tugboats, auxiliary engines for deep-sea vessels, but also trains and electricity generators for hospitals and data centres.”

Added Mr Saverys: “In theory, any large diesel engine can be replaced by a BeHydro engine. The hydrogen future starts today!”

Shipping targeted by ‘cap and trade’ scheme

BeHydo’s engine launch aligned with the announcement by the European Commission (EC) to step up its ambitions regarding the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reach climate neutrality by 2050. The EC wants to reduce GHG emissions (as compared with 1990 levels) by 55% or more by 2030. Legislative proposals are expected to be presented by June 2021 to implement the new target, including revising and expanding the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), adapting the Effort Sharing Regulation and the framework for land use emissions, reinforcing energy efficiency and renewable energy policies, and strengthening CO2 standards for road vehicles.

In September, the European Parliament voted in favour of a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions from the international and EU shipping sector, while including it in the ETS. Ships 5,000 gross tonnes and above would have to comply with the ‘cap and trade’ scheme.

Revenue generated by auctioning allowances under the ETS would be collected in an ‘Ocean Fund’ created for the period from 2022 to 2030 to make ships more energy efficient and to support investment in innovative technologies and infrastructure, such as alternative fuel and green ports.

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