Business & Economy

Japan tests first hydrogen-powered passenger ship

Tokyo, 21 Oct (EFE).- Japan has begun testing a passenger ship powered by a dual hydrogen-diesel engine, the first of its type in the world according to its creators, and part of the country’s strategy to promote this alternative energy source.

The Hydro Bingo ferry – about 20 meters long and 5.4 meters wide – has a capacity of 80 people and operates at a service speed of 23 knots. It was taken on a brief test journey through Tokyo Bay on Thursday.

It is the first commercial passenger ship that runs on hydrogen, according to its makers, Japanese shipbuilding company Tsuneishi Facilities and Craft and Belgium’s CMB.TECH, companies that have experience in the development of electric vessels and industrial applications of green hydrogen respectively.

The joint venture formed by the two firms is yet to receive authorization from Japanese regulators for the ship to be able to operate commercially in the country.

The Hydro Bingo is equipped with a dual combustion engine powered by low purity hydrogen and diesel, which according to the companies, ensures the operability of the vessel even in case of an accident – it is easier to rely on a diesel reserve tank than the one with hydrogen – or if there are supply chain issues with the latter.

A computer system automatically cuts down on the hydrogen level that powers the engine, to maintain the power level required by the ship’s command according to the sea conditions.

This way, if the hydrogen provides 20 percent of the engine’s energy consumption, the polluting emissions are reduced by 20 percent, and if the fuel touches 50 percent, the emission of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases reduces accordingly.

Hydrogen is already used as a fuel in vehicles like cars and buses, even though engines with higher energy consumption, like those of passenger and merchant ships or planes, require a large amount of high-purity hydrogen, which hinders its usage.

The main challenge for the Belgian-Japanese project is linked precisely to the logistical difficulties and the danger involved in handling hydrogen, a highly inflammable gas, which is difficult to store and prone to leaks since it is lighter than air.

“Our biggest obstacle is the supply of hydrogen,” Yu Aonuma, head of operations of the joint venture, told EFE.

She added that the problem is “the snake biting its own tail”: there are almost no suppliers of the gas at present because there is a lack of companies that require it at a large scale.

“That is why we have created this vessel, with the idea of encouraging demand in the hydrogen market,” added Aonuma. The vessel consumes about 100 kilograms of fuel per day, about 20 times more than a vehicle that runs on hydrogen.

Although at the moment there is no fixed date for when the Hydro Bingo would start transporting passengers in Japanese waters, its developers hope that the pilot operation would allow them to draw conclusions about hydrogen engines, towards the final objective of developing vessels that function solely on this fuel.

Currently, technology to build ship-engines solely powered by hydrogen already exists, but these models are “not commercially viable at present,” highlighted Aonuma.

The research and development of green hydrogen is part of a national plan approved by Japan in 2020 to achieve neutrality in carbon emissions by 2025, as part of the global goals in the fight against climate change.

Moreover, Japan has successfully completed the world’s first tests of transporting liquefied hydrogen by sea, as part of an ambitious project that aspires to market a supply chain of this energy source in the next decade. EFE


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