What if vessels could source their energy directly from the water surrounding them? It’s a question that has occupied US tech developer Joi Scientific, to the extent that the group has developed a solution intended to hasten what it describes as “the global transition to a Hydrogen 2.0 economy”.
Hydrogen is not a new phenomenon in shipping: numerous projects have focused on the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology, and hydrogen liquefaction plants have made their way into ports, albeit in very small numbers. As with LNG, gaps exist in the hydrogen supply chain, and the process of producing hydrogen can be expensive and time-consuming. What’s more, assuming one finds a location to collect hydrogen, a large amount of onboard storage space is needed. The gas must be carefully handled, requiring a cryogenic system capable of maintaining temperatures lower than -253⁰C, and its onboard presence adds to overall vessel weight.
Perhaps because of these drawbacks, hydrogen as a fuel source has been relatively slow to catch on in marine circles. However, what if all of these drawbacks were removed, spanning the entire process, from production and portside availability to onboard handling and storage? Speaking to Ship & Boat International Traver Kennedy, social entrepreneur and chairman/chief executive of Joi Scientific (pictured above, on the right) believes his company’s Hydrogen 2.0 solution can do just that.
“Electrolysis has been used to produce hydrogen from water for the past 100 years,” Kennedy says. “This process requires large plates and big storage tanks, and sometimes caustic and toxic materials to work as catalysts. You also have to ensure that the water has been purified before you subject it to electrolysis.” This process can also necessitate the use of “exotic materials and precious metals,” Kennedy adds, including gold, iridium, palladium and platinum –none of which come cheap. “Platinum can also generate osmium during the process, which is bad for the environment,” he says.
Alternatively, the Hydrogen 2.0 system is intended to directly target water molecules and to extract hydrogen from them, for use as ‘real-time’ fuel. It has been designed as a modular system, Kennedy explains, featuring the onboard installation of a series of “black boxes” through which the water surrounding the boat is passed.
Each black box features an intake valve for the water. “Unlike the electrolysis process, Hydrogen 2.0 doesn’t require the water to be purified before it is treated to produce hydrogen,” Kennedy says. In this way, operators can utilise the water in a number of operational environments, including freshwater and seawater areas.Once the water is in the box, the hydrogen production process begins. This process does not rely on electrolysis, nor chemical treatment, and remains free of carbons and/or metals. The hydrogen ‘fuel’ then exits the box via a gas outlet valve and can be used to directly power the vessel’s main engines and propulsive systems, and/or its onboard machinery and facilities.
Thus, the system could grant boat operators virtually uninterrupted range. However, the modular and scalable nature of Hydrogen 2.0 means it can be deployed in multiple ways. For instance, a vessel could incorporate it into a hybrid set-up, perhaps using MGO or battery power for transits and the converted hydrogen for onboard hotel needs, including refrigeration and lighting, thereby removing the need to install traditional generators. Alternatively, Hydrogen 2.0 could be used to cover the vessel’s entire range of power needs: as long as the boat is in the water, its ‘fuel’ remains on tap.
“Another advantage is that the operator isn’t reliant on lots of room for onboard hydrogen storage, as the black boxes are constantly being topped up with seawater and producing the gas,” Kennedy says. This could have a tremendous impact on overall vessel construction costs, he adds. For instance, weight savings can be made by removing gensets from the equation, and naval architects can bypass the restrictions of factoring in a dedicated hydrogen storage zone.
The amount of onboard power available would largely be determined by the number of boxes installed on board – the more boxes one adds, the more kick is available. So, very small vessels, especially those looking to engage in high-speed ops, might not be able to use the system to perform all of their duties on seawater alone – “vessels sized 30m and upwards are a good indicator of the market we’re looking at,” Kennedy confirms – but their operators can ‘mix and match’ a box (or couple of boxes) with battery and/or diesel systems. Obviously, larger vessels (tankers, cargo ships and so on) will have more room for these boxes, giving them a wider power band to play with – but even small yachts and workboats could potentially cut some energy-related costs with a single box installed.