Is a Hydrogen Boat or Ship the Future of Sea and River Transport?

A short while ago we  discussed how hydrogen fuel cell cars would affect the future. Today, I'd like to write about another form of transport that is looking for alternative fuel sources. Since the year 2000, different boat and small ship prototypes have been constructed with electrical engines powered by hydrogen fuel cells and today I would like to speak about some of the most recent and interesting models that have been built.

The Hydra Passenger Ship

The Hydra was the world's first ship  with an alkaline fuel cell.  It was a boat from Leipzig for 22 persons which had its debut in June 2000 on the waters of the Rhine in the vicinity of Bonn in Germany.  

The boat made its last demonstration trip in 2001.  The ship was fully certified in accordance with the Germanischer Lloyd standards for sustainability, and was 12 metres long with a depth of 0.52m below the waterline.  It had one hydride tank for 32 cubic metres of hydrogen, with a 5  kilowatt alkaline fuel cell.  With 22 passenges on board it could  travel at a speed of 6 knots.
The ship transported approximately 2,000 passengers in the years 2000 and 2001, and was even used as a ferry-boat in Ghent during a conference concerning electric boats.

H2Yacht Pleasure Boats

H2Yacht is a company that devotes itself to the construction of  pleasure boats powered by Hydrogen. The type of craft that they make is a Tucker Boat, a design of calm-water ship  which has been used for 100 years in the port of Hamburg.  During this past century the Tucker Boat has been just aboout the only means of transport between berthed boats, the river and the shore.  As they have, until now, been powered by a single cylinder diesel engine, the characteristic tick-tuck sound of their engines gave them their name.

Instead of using the typical noisy and polluting diesel engine, H2Yacht have been praised for using an electrical engine powered by hydrogen fuel cells in their designs. At the moment they have two available models, the 540 and the 675.

The 540 is 5.4 metres in length and can carry 6 people. It is propelled by an electrical engine of 1.34 kilowatts and has two hydrogen tanks with a power of 1.2 kilowatts. This was the first model that H2Yacht produced to completion, and the test prototype has undergone several years of operation without problems.

The 675 is has 6.75 metres in length and has a capacity to carry 8 persons. Its engine has an output of 2.4 kilowatts and the hydrogen fuel cells 2.4 kilowatts of energy. This model appeared in the 2006 Hamburg boat fair and has an estimated price of  120,000 euros.

The last innovation of H2Yacht has been to improve the hydrogen fuel cells, making them portable so that you can take them to refuel at sites where Hydrogen is available.


The Ross Barlow Canal Boat

Into 2007 engineers at the University of Birmingham turned an old canal boat into a clean energy vessel. The ancient diesel engine was replaced by an electrical one of with 10 kilowatts of power, where the energy is obtained from a set of batteries and a hydrogen fuel cell producing 5kW.

The boat is named the Ross Barlow after a student who worked on the early stages of the project. Sadly Ross, who was a keen supporter of alternative energy, died in a hang gliding accident in 2005.

Hydrogen Canal Boat
Picture of The Ross Barlow Hydrogen Canal Boat
Photo by nickstone333.

The boat's electrical engine has an efficiency of 89% and it is constructed with Neodymium magnets.  The fuel cells are five 130 kilogram cylinders of metal hydride developed by the University and the EMPA laboratories of Zurick.  These cylinders are capable of storing 2.5 kilograms of Hydrogen. The pressure of the gas is of less than 10 bars and the five units store the equivalent of four cylinders of standard gas at 200 bars.  According to the development team, it was the largest storage system for solid hydrogen used in a transport vessel in the United Kingdom.

The prototype sailed for the first time in September, 2007 and refuels at a hydrogen station installed in the creek.   The idea was to continue to  use it as an educational resource.


FCS Alsterwasser Tourist Ship

Alster-Touristik, a company dedicated to tourist transport by the lake Alster and the canals of Hamburg, has constructed a tourist ship with impresive specifications.  Its two 50 Kilowatt hydrogen fuel cells give it the capability of transporting 100 passengers. The construction has been realized through the Zemships (Zero EmissionShips) project, subsidized by the EU, which includes the development and manufacture of the ship as well as of a refuelling station. The stored hydrogen at 350 bars of pressure bar allows the ship to travel for 3 days without refuelling.

The project began in October, 2006 and sailed for the first time on 4th September 2008.  According to the promoters of the project, it is the first commercial passenger ship powered by hydrogen. Once the winter was over, in April, 2009 the ship began its commercial operation, so if you go to Hamburg and want to do some green tourism, pop off to lake Alster and have a nice cruise on the water there.

Nemo H2 Passenger Boat

The Nemo H2 is a hydrogen fuel cell powered boat in Amsterdam.  It is the first passenger pleasure boat in Amsterdam, carrying 88 people (87 passengers plus a pilot).    The keel was laid at the Bodewes dockyard in  Hassellt ,and the first boat began  operating on the Amsterdam canalways in December 2009.

The boat is 21.95 metres in length  and 4.25 metres wide.  It's depth is 1 metre, with 65 entimetres above water level.  A 11 kilowatt bow thruster and a 55 centimeter 75 kilowatt screw propeller are powered by 6 hydrogen tanks with a pressure of  350 bars (35 megapascal) for 24 kilograms of hydrogen.  It has a 60 -70 kilowatt polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell and an integrated 30-50 kilowatt battery.  The ship can travel for around 9 hours a a speed of 9 knots before the power cells need to be refuelled.

The hydrogen energy station is powered by wind turbines which then electrolize water and can produce 60 cubic metres of hydrogen per hour,  which would be enough for two Nemo H2 passenger boats.  As such, these boats are completely green, using no fossil fuels at all being used in any part of the energy production process.

Thanks to queinventenellos for much of the inspiration for this feature.