1st sea trial of Yanmar/Toyota hydrogen fuel cell boat

We wrote just less than a year ago about two of the world’s leading transportation manufacturers getting together to explore a hydrogen fuel cell boat.  Now Yanmar and Toyota have announced they have completed the first sea trials in the water off the coast of Kunisaki in the Oita Prefecture in southern Japan.

Japan is very intent on developing hydrogen as a fuel, finalizing its Basic Hydrogen Strategy in 2017 with the goal of establishing the country as ‘a world-leading hydrogen-based society’.

Various hydrogen fuel cell boats being developed

Along with working toward that national objective, a key impetus for the Yanmar/Toyota collaboration is the International Maritime Organization’s push to reduce emissions from global shipping to zero by the turn of the century. While the eventual goal is to have huge cargo carriers like the Ever Given of Suez Canal infamy run on hydrogen, the hydrogen fuel boat project is one of a number of projects of differing size and scope – some already in operation – that are necessary steps along the way.

hydrogen fuel cell boat Energy ObserverToyota already has fuel cells working away on the Energy Observer research ship, which creates hydrogen from the sea water it travels through and is on its way to Japan after completing a zero-emission 9,000km transatlantic journey from France to Martinique. On a smaller, recreational boat level, H2-from-sea-water is also a fuel source  for the new luxury solar electric yacht Aquon.

Other hydrogen fuel cell boats and ships in the conceptual and development phase include:

  • The world’s first hydrogen powered river boat is due to be launched this year in France with a system developed by ABB (energy management) and Ballard (fuel cells), who are also working on fuel cell cruise ships for the Royal Caribbean line
  • on the conceptual side, winners of a Norwegian government competition for ferries of the future include one that runs on hydrogen from the ‘Deep Purple’ project: offshore wind turbines power an undersea electrolysis system which extracts hydrogen from seawater, stores it underwater and then transports it to stations on land as needed.
  • Kisen, Japan’s largest tugboat manufacturer, has a tugboat with towing power of 50 tons in the works – driven by a combination battery / hydrogen fuel cell system

Electric motor, 2 fuel cell modules, 8 hydrogen tanks

The cells for the Energy Observer and the Yanmar project are from the Toyota Mirai – the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle –  and have proven their efficiency and durability in heavy duty trucks and Tokyo’s buses since 2016.

cutawat of hydrogen fuel cell boat showing cells and hydrogen tanksFor this project the Mirai cells have been installed in a wide body Yanmar EX38A ‘fishing cruiser’. The model was introduced in 2016 to provide a new level of comfort for deep sea fishing and has been designed to accommodate 12 passengers. At 12.4 metre (40′) long with a beam of 3.4m (11′) and weighing in at 7.9 tonnes this is a hydrogen fuel cell boat that needs some significant power, and range.

For these tests, A 250-kW electric powertrain replaces the usual, slightly larger (265kw) Yanmar 6CXBS-GT diesel engine. The dual polymer electrolyte fuel cells are fed by 8 tanks of hydrogen at 70MPa.

One of the challenges for new technology and fuel sources in boats like this is getting government approval. A similar sized deep sea fishing boat in Canada was the first in that country to be given the green light for its lithium-ion battery system and Yanmar says its boat is the first to officially comply with Japan’s safety guidelines for hydrogen fuel cell vessels.

While Yanmar and Toyota didn’t provide any results in the announcement of these sea trials, presumably things are going well. They did announce plans to scale up the system by adding more fuel cell units with a goal of deploying it in larger vessels  by 2025.

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