European innovation project FLAGSHIPS will receive 5 million euros from the EU for the development of two commercially operated hydrogen fuel cell vessels. One of the zero-emission vessels will operate in France, the other in Norway.

'Both the EU and the shipping industry see hydrogen as a key contributor in the work to mitigate climate change. The FLAGSHIPS project sets out to raise the readiness of hydrogen-powered waterborne transport to a new level globally,' says Senior Scientist and Project Manager Antti Pohjoranta from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, who will be coordinating the project.

An important part of the project will also be the building of European support networks covering hydrogen fuel supply chains, vessel design and manufacturing competence networks as well as significantly broad-based regulatory expertise.

Hydrogen from Renewable Energy

The project aim is that both vessels will run on hydrogen produced from renewable energy. This will not only enable zero-emission operation of the ships, but also create a solid basis for further local zero-emission transport deployment both at sea as well as on land.

Hydrogen Push-boat for CFT

The first vessel will be a hydrogen push-boat operated by Compagnie Fluvial de Transport (CFT) in Lyon and will serve as a utility vessel on the river Rhône. 

'We are facing a complex, but also new and innovative project for our group. We are glad that the European Commission is supporting this development and we hope that French and local authorities will follow to support and assist the implementation of this hydrogen powered pusher in their environment,' says Director of CFT inland transportation, Matthieu Blanc.

Hydrogen Passenger and Car Ferry for Norled

In Stavanger, hydrogen is intended to power a passenger and car ferry operated by Norled as part of the local public transport network. The project will look at the possibility to replace biodiesel with hydrogen on one of the ferries to be built for the Finnøy-route north east of Stavanger. The route serves several islands with short stops, which makes it difficult to realise the effective shore charging required for battery-powered vessels. 

'This innovation project will be an important next step when it comes to proving maritime fuel cell technology and illustrating its business viability. By leveraging knowhow from existing onshore and marine system integration activities, the project will also reduce the cost of marine fuel cell power systems significantly,' says Norled CTO, Sigvald Breivik. 

Norled’s intention is to apply the hydrogen technology being developed by the company in several other ongoing hydrogen-related projects, such as building the world’s first ship powered by liquid hydrogen for the Hjelmeland connection in Western Norway.

Speeding up the Introduction of Hydrogen

'FLAGSHIPS is a key project to demonstrate the superior features of hydrogen fuel cells in the maritime sector: Lower CO2 and pollutant emissions and reduced noise amongst the most critical. The project will cooperate with relevant organisations such as CESNI, IMO and certification bodies to speed up the introduction of hydrogen for the maritime sector both for inland and coastal operations and for freight and passenger transportation,' says Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH2 JU).

Industrial Partners

The FLAGSHIPS project brings together a group of industrial partners, including ship owners, fuel cell technology suppliers, companies with experience in electrical power system design, integration and manufacturing, ship designers and energy management system suppliers. 

The consortium includes nine European partners. In addition to the two ship owners, these are ABB, which specialises in maritime services such as automation, electrification and power generation and distribution, design company LMG Marin (NO & FR), fuel cell technology specialist Ballard Europe (DK), and vessel energy monitoring and management system supplier PersEE (FR). Management, dissemination activities and maritime hydrogen safety expertise are provided by VTT (FI) and industry cluster NCE Maritime CleanTech (NO). Furthermore, Westcon Power & Automation (NO) is expected to officially join the consortium soon.

Funds and Investments

The funds awarded have been granted from the EU’s Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 under the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking. In addition to the project funding, significant additional investment to build the ships is made by the ship owners CFT and Norled as well as the consortium partners.

The project started on 1 January 2019 and the hydrogen ships will start operation during 2021.

Picture: Artist impression of Norled's hydrogen ferry (by LMG Marin).