Last month, DEME Offshore announced in a LinkedIn post that its cable ship, named Living Stone, bunkered for the first time with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and then successfully completing her LNG sea trials.  There is now a major push towards cleaner marine fuels and cable ships are moving to the forefront, particularly in the offshore wind arena. 

Coincidentally, a webinar was held shortly after the Living Stone announcement as part of the Rhode Island Commerce Supply Chain Series entitled “Future of Wind Farm Vessel Propulsion.”  Rhode Island Commerce is the economic development organization for the state of Rhode Island.  As Rhode Island also happens to be the first state in the United States to successfully put turbines in the water, a webinar on this topic is particularly appropriate. 

Speaking at the webinar was Greg Beers, President of the Bristol Harbor Group in Bristol, Rhode Island, whose talk we covered recently.  Bristol Harbor Group is a naval architecture and engineering firm that worked on the first LNG bunker barge built in North America, the Clean Jacksonville. 

In our second report on this webinar, we cover the presentation by Ian Lawson, a naval architect at the Bristol Harbor Group.  He tackled the subject of hydrogen as a fuel for offshore wind vessels, with a particular focus on the U.S. market.

“Liquefied natural gas (LNG) has a role as a transition fuel,” Mr. Lawson said.  “It has strong adoption already and is still growing at present.  But as we look at the future of low-carbon shipping, the next generation of ships will need to cut emissions further than LNG can cut alone.  A report earlier this year by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) notes that LNG, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and methanol do offer some reduction compared to diesels, but in order to get anywhere close to zero-carbon shipping, hydrogen, or its close chemical relative ammonia, are the only really viable fuels being considered, from the “tank to wake” perspective.  Hydrogen and ammonia, given the right market conditions, are going to be highly desirable to vessel owners as regulations on emissions tighten.” 

However, in regards to the costs from “well to ship,” the ABS report shows that hydrogen is the most expensive solution, even more than diesel. 

“That assumes, however, that we keep making hydrogen the way we make it right now,” Mr. Lawson continued.  “Hydrogen produced in the most common method today is called “gray” hydrogen. It uses fossil fuels to feed the chemical reaction and it uses huge amounts of electricity, also produced by fossil fuels.  “Green” hydrogen, however, has zero emissions.  It uses water to feed the chemical reaction and all of the electricity required comes from fossil-free sources, such as offshore wind, making it the only true zero-carbon marine fuel that ABS is considering.  ABS concludes that there is a clear need for green hydrogen and green ammonia.  This will require a massive scale up in production technology.  Vessel owners will need hydrogen to meaningfully reduce tank-to-wake greenhouse gas emissions.  Port states are likely to require and incentivize green hydrogen in order to achieve greenhouse gas emissions overall.  Broad adoption will require orders of magnitude increases in production scale.”

“Based on this, we believe that there is a strong future market for green hydrogen in the US, especially if, as a nation, we make good on ambitions to be a global leader in decarbonization.  If nationally we stick to that plan, the question is not so much if there will be green hydrogen demand, but rather who will be the first to meet that demand and how soon can they be ready.  Right now, the scale of green hydrogen production is tiny and the economics heavily favor more carbon-intensive fuels.  But the race is on internationally to start building up production – accessing economies of scale, gaining experience and developing technologies to bring those costs down.” 

“For the US, the first step would be a series of green hydrogen pilot projects.  In the Northeast, with its abundant offshore wind resources, we could see the nation’s first projects converting offshore wind energy to hydrogen, something that several other countries are working on as we speak.  Rhode Island specifically is already a first mover in offshore green energy and could be poised to lead the nation once again in offshore wind to hydrogen.” 

As this webinar was focused on offshore wind vessels, Mr. Lawson discussed pathways to hydrogen that will need to be established for in order to benefits the ships operating on the wind farms. 

Marine customers could take on hydrogen from an offshore facility closely integrated with an offshore wind farm,” he said.  “Right now, the best candidates for that would be the vessels servicing the wind farm itself, allowing them to refuel on site.  Hydrogen could be used either in fuel cells of burned directly, though currently fuel cell technology is more mature than hydrogen-burning engines in marine vessels.” 

“Service Operations Vessels (SOVs), which house wind farm technicians and supplies while sitting on station near wind farms, are relatively large vessels, which are good for fitting hydrogen tanks.  And they have possibly the best operational profile for hydrogen and electric power systems.  On-site refueling with hydrogen would be very convenient for them and they spend a lot of time using low power while not in transit which can be inefficient with conventional power systems, incentivizing advanced fuels.  Crew transfer vessels (CTVs) using hydrogen would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of wind farm operations and provide value consistently for the full operational life of the farm, however their small size and high speed and range requirements pose significant engineering challenges for the adoption of hydrogen fuel,” Mr. Lawson concluded.

SubCableWorld will have more about the topic of cleaner marine fuels and some of the perspectives presented at this webinar in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned.