Tide-powered hydrogen vessels

With approximately 3000 ships sailing at any one time, the North Sea is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world.[1] Many of the medium-sized vessels require approximately 1 MW for propulsion - for instance ferries, search and rescue vessels, and coastal and inland commercial vessels. These are vessels that can be potentially powered by hydrogen gas.[2,3,4]

New floating tidal power plant designs will allow for their mass production at shipyards, further reducing the costs of clean electricity production. Electricity from tidal is very predictable because it relies on the gravitational pull from the moon, and because the waterways that make good sites for tidal energy are not always easily connected to a mainland electricity grid, producing hydrogen can serve as another way to store the energy.[5,6,7]

Hydrogen is stored in tanks that are about the size of a shipping container, and therefore can be swapped on and off vessels. However, making an existing vessel capable of running on hydrogen fuel cells requires alterations to the ship’s infrastructure, especially concerning the drivetrain.[2] Furthermore, even if there is hydrogen stock available along the route, the availability of hydrogen at ports is still limited.[2]

When will hydrogen, produced at tidal plants, become a commercially viable alternative for powering 1 MW vessels?

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[1] Aulinger, A. et al. (2016), The impact of shipping emissions on air pollution in the greater North Sea region – Part 1: Current emissions and concentrations
[2] Mace, A. (2019),Here's Why Fuel Cells Will Power the World's Marine Vessels
[3] Dickie, M. (2018), Orkney’s ageing ferries look to ditch diesel for hydrogen
[4] C Marine AB (2016), C-Rescuer concept design launched at international hydrogen conference
[5] Giannini, G. (2019), Modelling and Feasibility Study on Using Tidal Power with an Energy Storage Utility for Residential Needs
[6] Husseini, T. (2018), Riding the renewable wave: tidal energy advantages and disadvantages
[7] Woo, M.J. (2017), Tidal Energy: The New Sustainable Resource
More information:
EMEC (2017), Press release: World’s first tidal-powered hydrogen generated at EMEC
Marine Energy (2018), New €11M project combines tidal energy and hydrogen production
McKie, R. (2019), How Orkney leads the way for sustainable energy
Media Kit (2020), World First: Hydrogen Generated by Tidal Power
Grand View Research (2018), Wave and Tidal Energy Market Size Worth $3.9 Billion By 2025
European Parliament (2019), Greenhouse gas reduction targets for international maritime shipping

By Matthew J. Spaniol