The Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR) has set an ambition of a 35 per cent reduction in emissions by 2035. How do these ambitions translate into clearer targets for inland navigation? Future Proof Shipping dedicated a white paper to this question.

The paper analyses how many vessels in the Dutch inland waterway fleet need to be zero-emission (ZE) by 2035 to meet the goal, and investigates two pathways to reach that number: retrofitting and replacement by newbuild. Future Proof Shipping‘s findings show that while hydrogen propulsion technologies and green H2 production will be available at sufficient capacity, the clear bottleneck is shipyard (retrofitting) capacity.

The paper was written by Abhinand Chandrasekar and Milinko Godjevac of Future Proof Shipping, with Ben Littler of Buoy Communications as co-author. Below is a shortened version of the paper, which can be read in full here. The research is part of ZEM Ports NS, an Interreg project made possible by support from the North Sea Programme of the European Regional Development Fund of the European Union.

Also read: Ballard supplies fuel cells for FPS Waal retrofit

Sizing the future zero-emission fleet

According to CCNR (2022), total transport in the Netherlands is around 48,000 million tonne-kilometres (tkm) per year. To calculate the number of zero-emission ships needed, Future Proof Shipping (FPS) looks at the reference case of its inland container ship FPS Maas (which is being retrofitted to sail on hydrogen).

For a 200-km trip with the FPS Maas, approximately 674 kg of H2 is required. Assuming the ship transported around 2000 tonnes of goods, the specific consumption of H2 is around 600 tkm/kg. The 35 per cent of annual transport is 16,800 million tkm per year or 46 million tkm per day, which equals around 76,67 tonnes of H2 per day.

Looking back at the case of the FPS Maas and estimated daily transport, 115 ships like FPS Maas need to be converted to zero emission. In the case of 135-metre vessels with double the cargo capacity, the figures are somewhat lower; then the required number would be roughly 58.

Also read: EST-Floattech to supply batteries for FPS Maas hydrogen retrofit

These numbers (58 and 115) consider only the sailing times and, as a result, refer to the number of vessels that need to be sailing on any given day (to transport 46 million tkm per day). In order to come to an estimate, the total number of ZE vessels in the fleet that would ensure 46 million tkm are transported per day, waiting times in harbours and asymmetric cargo load profiles (upstream/downstream) has to be considered.

When harbour times are considered, the number of vessels needs to be corrected by a factor of 2. When the asymmetric cargo load profile is considered, the number should be corrected by additional factor of 2, resulting in a total estimated ZE fleet size of 232 FPS Rijn type vessels (135 metres) or 460 FPS Maas type vessels (110 metres).

Another approach to estimate the number of ships that need to be converted to zero emission is to look at the Dutch fleet size. According to CCNR (2022) there are 1683 dry cargo vessels with capacity larger than 1500 tonnes. If all emissions are uniformly distributed over the fleet, then 589 vessels need to be converted to ZE propulsion.

Hydrogen availability promising

There are several aspects that need to be considered with regards to achieving the ZE fleet. These aspects are related to the H2 production, shipyard capacity, prioritisation of most promising ship candidates and shipping routes, technology readiness of ZE technology and regulatory aspects.

In the first instance, it is crucial that there be sufficient hydrogen production to fuel the required number of vessels. Given its strategic location on the Rhine Basin network, and its ambitions to advance the hydrogen revolution, it is likely that the Netherlands will play a key role in fuelling the clean inland vessels of the future. The country already stands at the forefront of the European hydrogen transition, thanks to the energy resources it enjoys and the subsequent infrastructure and expertise it has developed in the field.

The Netherlands is currently Europe’s second largest producer of hydrogen, with an output of 9 million m3 per year. Presently, this is completely fossil-based. However, the Netherlands has the ambition to have 3-4 GW of electrolyser capacity available by 2030, capable of producing 540,000 tonnes of clean H2. Assuming the country is successful in its ambitions, and given its current capabilities there is every reason to do so, then the outlook for hydrogen availability for the inland fleet is promising.

Also read: FPS joins Flagships project to realise second hydrogen inland container ship

Shipyard capacity a bottleneck

The average annual registrations of newbuild dry cargo vessels (>1500 tonnes) between 2017-2021 was roughly 19.2 per annum (CCNR, 2022). If we assume that sixty per cent of those vessels were built in the Netherlands, we can estimate a newbuild capacity of Dutch shipyards of 11.5 vessels per year. At this rate, it would take in the region of 40-51 years to replace the required 460-589 vessels in the Rhine fleet with ZE vessels, with only 138 ZE vessels newly built by 2035.

Against this context, the case for retrofitting is significantly more favourable. Based on FPS’ experience retrofitting the FPS Maas, the company estimates that retrofitting a vessel to hydrogen propulsion takes roughly half the time of newbuilding a vessel. Using the estimated 11.5 vessel newbuild capacity at Dutch shipyards, this would translate to roughly 23 retrofits per year, resulting in a maximum total of 276 vessels retrofitted to ZE propulsion by 2035.

Here it is clear, that in order to achieve the 35-per-cent emission reductions goal, Dutch shipyard capacity will need to undergo a significant and rapid expansion of capacity within the decade. In the meantime however, the vessels and routes that have the highest impact should be prioritised, so that the maximum feasible reduction in emissions can be achieved using existing shipyard capacity.

Picture: 3D image of the Maas, Waal, and Rijn in Rotterdam (by Future Proof Shipping).

Also read: Holland Shipyards kicks off second hydrogen retrofit