The First Hydrogen-Powered Cargo Ship Set To Debut In Paris

European innovation project Flagships will launch the world’s first commercial cargo ship later this year — another masterstroke in the fight against carbon-based emissions at sea.

The inland vessel is poised to travel along the river Seine in Paris starting September 2021, using compressed hydrogen produced by electrolysis as its only power source. French company Compagnie Fluvial de Transport (CFT), a subsidiary of the Sogestran Group, will own the vessel.

Flagships’ original plan was to launch a hydrogen push-boat somewhere in Lyon; this quickly changed course as the potential of hydrogen-optimised cargo ships continues to grow unanchored.

“Green and sustainable shipping is a prerequisite for reaching national and international emission reduction targets. Ships powered by renewable hydrogen will make a substantial contribution to reducing emissions from shipping and improving air quality in cities and other densely populated areas,” says Jyrki Mikkola, Project Coordinator of Flagship.

Funding the future

Around €5 million was awarded to the Flagships project in 2018 from the EU’s Research and Innovation programme (Horizon 2020), under the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), in the hope that hydrogen vessels would deploy in France and Norway within the next few years.

Blue Line Logistics, another subsidiary of the Sogestran Group, currently operate three cargo vessels under an outlined plan titled ‘Zulu.’ This Belgian company hopes to roll out a fully-optimised hydrogen cargo ship before the end of 2021.

The fact that water vapour and warm air are the only by-products of hydrogen fuel cells could explain the rise in hydrogen-ran vehicles, such as public buses and cars. There are 12 low emission bus zones in London alone, expected to reduce emissions by 84%.

Hydrogen strides

Renewable energy of this kind could be vital in decreasing harmful emissions from one of the leading contributors to climate change. Standard cargo ships run on “bunker fuel,” which emits carbon dioxide in addition to black carbon, known to be very harmful to the planet.

It’s an issue that has raised red flags both in and out of the EU, leading to innovation programmes like Horizon 2020 to fund projects like Flagships to steer the future of maritime operations. The project could become a new reality across countless cities, as stated by Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director at FCH JU.

“As we move through the energy transition, hydrogen technologies are gaining traction in the maritime sector. Flagships is a very exciting project for us, since it is leading the way to demonstrate how vessels operating on green hydrogen can decarbonise urban rivers. By translating technological innovations into commercial operations we can make zero-emissions inland vessels a reality in every European city!,” says Biebuyck.

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