Hydrogen boat to cut marine pollution

A hydrogen-powered boat that aims to become the world's first mass produced H-vessel could be the answer to air pollution from the marine transport sector.

A prototype of the Dutch-designed boat is set to hit the waves this summer, with a commercial model expected on the market in less than two years’ time if EU funding comes through, project leader Robert Van den Hoed told edie.

The boat is powered by hydrogen fuel cells, seen as a great hope for clean energy as they emit only water vapour when burning hydrogen to produce electricity.

Marine transport could become a niche market for hydrogen fuel cell technology because it is both clean and practical for use in boats, Mr Van den Hoed believes: “Many European cities have air quality problems. Electric boats can provide a solution, but their battery capacity is limited and they cannot travel far in one go.

“The [hydrogen-powered] sloop will be able to travel for two to three days without refuelling. Besides, a fuel cell boat can be recharged within 15 minutes by switching the hydrogen cylinders, rather than the 4-6 hours recharging needed for traditional electric boats,” he said.

Only a handful of hydrogen-powered boat models exit so far, all of them prohibitively expensive. “Fuel-cell products have so far been one-offs, largely because of the high costs. We have tried to create as cost-effective a product as possible,” he said.

His design team at Dutch renewables company Ecofys, one of the project initiators alongside the Dutch Knowledge Centre for Yachtbuilding and boat-builder Ganita, managed to produce the fuel cell system that powers the vessel for 40,000 euros – a figure that factors in development costs of 200,000 euros, met with the help of Dutch national and regional authorities.

The cost of the fuel cells should go down to 10,000 euro when the boat is produced on a larger scale.

The boat, called Xperiance, will still have to rely on subsidies to compete on the market. But while similar vessels so far needed subsidies equal to 80-90% of their production costs, for the Xperiance this will be 20-30%, say the designers.

The hydrogen used to run the boat will cost no more than diesel thanks to tax breaks.

Although hydrogen fuel cells produce no emissions, they are not a carbon neutral energy source. Obtaining the hydrogen itself requires energy, not necessarily of the renewable kind, although that is the long-term goal. Hydrogen used to power the new Dutch H-boat is made using natural gas, giving net carbon emissions about 30-50% below those of conventional boats.

The official launch of the Xperiance is planned for 23 June when it will accompany the Frisian Nuon Solar Challenge solar-powered boat race. The Xperiance will transport the event’s VIPs, covering the full 220 km distance without re-fuelling.

For more information on the solar-powered boat race see here.

Goska Romanowicz

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