By Howard Mead, Vice-President and General Manager, Luxfer Gas Cylinders Composite

Whether by land, air, or sea, there is no doubt that alternative fuels have an important role to play in transforming and decarbonising the transportation sector. In fact, if urgent measures aren’t taken to move away from fossil fuels, CO2 from the shipping sector, which currently accounts for 3% global greenhouse gas emissions, could increase to 50% by 2050.

Considering this, the need for reliable and renewable clean energy has never been greater. Hydrogen is a key contender in driving transformation. And, unsurprisingly, there have been increasing enquiries in recent years from marine industry stakeholders keen to explore the fuel’s potential applications.

In pursuit of net zero

For the maritime sector to reach net zero by 2050, global collaboration and cooperation is required. To this end, commercial operators around the globe are aiming to use zero-emissions vessels as early as 2030.

It truly is a case of ‘all hands on deck’. All stakeholders, from ship operators to hydrogen fuel infrastructure developers and fuel cell system integrators, which include hydrogen storage cylinders, working together in pursuit of this goal.

In fact, several hydrogen hubs are being established at major ports around the globe. Striving to be climate neutral by 2050, and with the goal of becoming Europe’s leading import hub for green hydrogen, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges is investing heavily in infrastructure, such as onshore hydrogen storage bunkers.

Similar efforts are taking place at other ports around the globe. In North America, the Texan Port of Corpus Christi is considering a new pipeline and a green fuels hub as part of its green hydrogen production development plans. Meanwhile, Japan’s Port of Kobe features the country’s first hydrogen import terminal with plans to further develop its hydrogen storage, import and supply infrastructure.

Of course, the benefits of hydrogen fuel aren’t limited to use on vessels; powering other port activities, such as removing cargo, with hydrogen has the potential to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. Drayage truck applications utilising fuel cells have already been introduced at the Port of Los Angeles and a hydrogen fuel cell-powered reach stacker is being tested at MSC Terminal Valencia.

At Luxfer Gas Cylinders we support transport operators who want to harness alternative fuel as part of their sustainability strategies. Considering not only the innovative projects being developed, but those already implemented, the 2050 goal certainly seems achievable.

The clean fuel challenge

Although hydrogen is just one of several solutions to consider on the road to net zero, it has a crucial contribution to make to the shipping industry. Leading the charge in unlocking hydrogen’s potential across the maritime sector, among others, is the US Department of Energy’s (DoE) Hydrogen Shot. It is an initiative with a clear goal – to bring down the cost of clean hydrogen by 80%, to $1 per 1kg in one decade (“1 1 1”).

Additionally, in its National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap, the DoE has set ambitious production targets. It is hoping to produce 10 million tonnes of clean hydrogen per year by 2030, 20 million tonnes per year by 2040, and 50 million tonnes per year by 2050.

However, given that more than 95% of the 10 million tonnes currently produced by the US annually is grey, the move towards producing clean fuel is not without its challenges.

To boost the production of clean hydrogen and stimulate new markets, several initiatives have been launched and policies and investments announced as part of both the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

In addition to the introduction of tax credits intended to lower the cost of clean hydrogen production by paying producers depending on the levels of emissions and staff wages, a $9.5bn investment in clean hydrogen development has been announced. This will enable the creation of regional clean hydrogen hubs and the advancement of the Hydrogen Electrolysis Program.

However, despite these efforts to overcome some of the financial barriers to clean hydrogen take-up, a lack of infrastructure remains. For example, the US has just 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipeline compared to around three million miles of CNG pipeline. This makes it challenging to transport green hydrogen, at scale, from where it is produced to where it is needed.

Innovative hydrogen storage solutions

Infrastructure is not the only obstacle to the roll-out of hydrogen fuel solutions across the global shipping sector; storage also poses a significant challenge. Both the amount of hydrogen needed by seafaring vessels and a fuel system big enough to power such ships, take up valuable space.

Luxfer continues to lead the way with solutions to support the transition to clean fuel. Having supplied alternative fuel cylinders worldwide since 2007, we have established a reputation for innovation and expertise in this market. In fact, our cylinders have helped several customers bring prototypes and early proof of concept hydrogen systems that can power a range of both marine and on-road vehicles, to life.

One example is Energy Observer, a floating laboratory launched in 2017. It is the world’s first vessel to both generate and be powered by hydrogen. Using a system supplied by Luxfer, the vessel creates hydrogen fuel by sucking up sea water and removing the salt and minerals before passing it through an electrolyser, which breaks it down into hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen is released and hydrogen is compressed and kept in two storage facilities. It can store 62kg of hydrogen, the equivalent of two megawatts of energy and the annual consumption of an average household – on either side of the ship.

Energy Observer is currently in the seventh year of its zero emissions journey around the world to explore practical solutions and develop new technologies to accelerate the energy transition.

G-Stor H2 hydrogen cylinders

Of particular importance to the shipping sector are Luxfer’s complete ‘plug and play’ systems featuring our G-Stor™ H2 hydrogen cylinders. The newest addition to the range is the G-Stor™ Go H2 hydrogen cylinder with Type 4 technology. Its key features include:

– Maximisation of gas capacity, from 14.5 to 19.1kg
– Lightweight carbon composite for improved fuel economy
– Varying dimensions to suit a range of applications
– Polymer lining to ensure gas-tight storage
– Ability to withstand storage pressures up 350 bar (5,000 PSI)
– Minimal permeation due to proven boss-to-liner interface

The G-Stor™ Go H2 is a certified, cost-effective hydrogen storage solution ideal for fuel cell transit boats and small marine vessels, as well as other vehicles such as trucks, vans and trains.

There is no doubt that alternative fuels have a significant role to play in transforming and decarbonising the transportation sector on land, air, and sea. Zero emissions won’t happen overnight, but with innovative solutions supporting the sector in reducing emissions and adopting alternative fuels, it’s not hard to see how greener marine solutions are on the horizon.