Switzerland’s ABB and Canada’s Ballard Systems announced they are collaborating on the world’s first hydrogen powered river boat, with hydrogen for the fuel cells sourced from renewables for a totally zero emission energy chain.
ABB is one of the world leaders in energy management systems, supplying the technology and equipment for dozens of electric ferries, including the new Maid of the Mist e-ferry which will begin taking visitors to the bottom of Niagara Falls this year.
Hydrogen river boat scheduled for 2021
Ballard has been one of the pioneering companies in hydrogen fuel cell technology since 1989 and is also working with ABB on fuel cell systems for cruise ships and ocean liners. The partnership arose out of a pilot project they worked on for the Royal Caribbean line in 2017.
This system is being built for France’s Sogestran Group and will be installed in a new river push boat for use on canals on the Rhone River. (France is getting all the cool boats, just last week we wrote about a canal wine tour on a battery/hybrid barge). A push boat is just that, a boat that pushes barges on a canal, as opposed to a towboat, which tows them.
The boat is scheduled to go into operation in 2021 with plans to run trials first to assess the refueling procedures needed to meet a daily operating schedule. During research for its electric tow/pushboats, ABB learned that they are not on 100% continuous duty, so the impact on fuel cell usage needs to be analyzed.
Commercial vessels emit huge amounts of CO2
The hydrogen river boat is part of a larger push (pun intended) to shift the world’s commercial vessels away from burning fossil fuel, especially low quality/high emission diesel and bunker fuels.
Maritime transport is estimated to emit around 940 million tons of CO2 annually. If it were a country it would be the 6th largest carbon emitter on our planet, about equal to Germany.
The International Maritime Organization, a United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping, has adopted a strategy on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships by at least 50% by 2050 (using a 2008 baseline), with the aim of phasing them out entirely.
Regarding the zero emission aspect of hydrogen creation, it is unclear whether the electricity will be sourced from renewables alone or from the broader category of carbon free generators. Wikipedia says nuclear power accounted for 72.3% of France’s total production in 2016, with renewables and fossil fuels accounting for 17.8% and 8.6%, respectively.