Fuel Cell Propulsion On Europe’s Rivers?

ABB said it will provide a power and propulsion system for a new vessel to operate along the Rhône river in France running entirely on hydrogen fuel cells. ABB is part of Flagships, the EU-funded initiative to deploy commercially operated zero-emission vessels for inland and short sea operations.

Under this initiative, ABB will provide a fuel cell-based power and propulsion system for a new push boat for the France-based Sogestran Group subsidiary Compagnie Fluviale de Transport (CFT), due for delivery in 2021. With hydrogen for the fuel cells sourced from shore-based renewable energy, the complete vessel energy chain will be emission-free, ABB claimed.

“Taking an active role in the Flagships initiative, ABB continues to push the boundaries of e-mobility in shipping,” said Peter Terwiesch, president of the Industrial Automation business at ABB, which offers solutions for a wide range of industries, including marine. “As one of the world’s leading enablers of sustainable transportation, ABB is committed to writing the future of the marine industry that will see vessels plying the world’s waters more cleanly and efficiently.”

ABB has been working with VTT, a Finnish research organization and project coordinator, as well as fuel cell manufacturer Ballard Power Systems Europe to develop an installation enabling a 400 kW fuel cell to power vessel operations.

The project objective is to demonstrate that fuel cells are a practical and deliverable propulsion solution for owners and builders of mid-sized vessels carrying more than 100 passengers or the equivalent freight volumes inland or coastally. For this reason, the scope of Flagships also includes assessing the operational impact of the switch to hydrogen as a fuel.

Once the fuel cell power plant has been fitted, the plan is to run the vessel daily, with special attention being paid to the refueling procedures needed to meet the operating schedule. Trials will therefore also provide insights into developing and optimizing the refueling infrastructure needed for hydrogen fuel cells in marine operations.

The Flagships project is supported by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), a public private partnership established under Europe’s Horizon 2020 frameworks to accelerate commercial realization of the technology in a range of transport and energy uses. The three members of FCH JU are the European Commission, fuel cell and hydrogen industries represented by Hydrogen Europe, and the research community represented by Hydrogen Europe Research. Parties involved in the CFT newbuild project also include LMG Marin, NCE Maritime CleanTech and PersEE.

“CFT has been an inland waterways innovator for more than half a century. Powering river transport in a sustainable way is a new type of challenge, but it has become vital that we cut emissions on Europe’s inland waterways and specifically in the city centers. With this project, we aim to highlight that emission-free operation is both feasible and commercially viable,” said Matthieu Blanc, COO at CFT.

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