ABB to power first hydrogen-fuelled river vessel

ABB to power first hydrogen-fuelled river vessel
Concept illustration of a push boat powered by fuel cell system

ABB has been chosen to provide a power and propulsion solution for a newbuild vessel to run entirely on hydrogen fuel cells along the Rhône river in France.

ABB will deliver a fuel cell based power and propulsion solution for a push boat, expected for delivery in 2021, for the France-based Sogestran Group subsidiary Compagnie Fluviale de Transport (CFT). Hydrogen for the fuel cells will be sourced from shore-based renewable energy, enabling the complete vessel energy chain to be emission-free.

“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.

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

The agreement between ABB and CFT has been made under the FLAGSHIPS EU-funded initiative to deploy commercially operated zero-emission vessels for inland and short sea operations.

“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.”

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.

As a FLAGSHIPS member since the project’s start in January 2019, ABB has been working closely with Finnish research organisation and project coordinator VTT and global provider of innovative clean energy fuel cell solutions Ballard Power Systems Europe to develop an installation enabling a 400kW fuel cell to power vessel 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.