Cie Maritime Belge
has built the first commercial ship that runs on hydrogen and produces zero pollution, taking the world a step closer to cargo without emissions.
The Hydroville passenger shuttle can operate on compressed hydrogen as well as regular fuel oil, according to the Belgian company. The ship was recently certified to operate as a seagoing vessel by Lloyd’s Register.
CMB will expand the technology to engines on cargo ships after initial testing.
“The potential for hydrogen worldwide is huge,” said Alexander Saverys, chief executive officer of Antwerp-based CMB, in a phone interview. “The boom in renewable energy gives a real opportunity to produce hydrogen in a cheap way.”
Pollution from the trillion-dollar shipping industry is still loosely regulated. While it’s estimated to produce as much as 3 percent of the world’s emissions, it wasn’t included in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Ships almost always burn heavy fuel oil, one of the dirtiest and cheapest forms of energy.
Oversight on shipping emissions is about to change, however, as the International Maritime Organisation, a United Nations agency, is set to impose from 2020 stringent new rules that limit the amount of sulfur emissions from ships. There are also talks about adding a carbon tax.
“There’s a very strong commitment to decarboniSe shipping from powerful countries such as China, Japan, and a group of European nations,” said Tristan Smith, a lecturer at University College London’s energy institute and a former naval architect. “Hydrogen is one of the most cost effective ways to do this. It’s proven, it works in the energy system and it’s easy to combust in ships.”
While other forms of transportation that are leaning toward batteries such as electric cars and trucks, cargo shipping is simply too energy intensive for that to be an option. “Even with the world’s biggest battery, we wouldn’t even be able to sail a full day,” said Roy Campe, research and development manager at CMB.