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Making hydrogen a reality today for maritime decarbonisation

There is no crystal ball to tell us what the prevailing solution will be for the decarbonisation of shipping.

On the other hand, the world fleet ages, newbuilding activity will continue, and owners’ investment must be secured. Opting for new ships with the flexibility to adapt in a rapidly changing world is the key value that needs to be implemented in the ship design of today.

Hydrogen on board

Hydrogen appears to be one of the most promising fuels to reduce CO2 emissions, despite coming with some challenges that will need to be overcome, including storage capacity on board.

Liquefied natural gas is a widely available fuel. Steam reforming is a fully developed technology, which functions as pre-combustion carbon capture. The process produces hydrogen and CO2. Then, they can be separated by cooling, by means of the cryogenic temperature (-163°C) at which LNG is stored in its tank.

The vessel will rely only on the supply of an existing fossil fuel which will be much less expensive than alternative fuels (mainly produced by natural gas). The hydrogen produced on board can be used immediately, without any need for storage, to power internal combustion engines, fuel cells, or both.

A flexible solution

Since LNG offers an immediate and significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, an LNG-fuelled vessel will not need to have a reformer installed upon delivery from the yard. The owner is able to decide how far ahead of compliance and competition they wish to be, how to deal with carbon tax and the number of reformer units to install at the time considered most suitable. This could be postponed even beyond 2035.

The reformer can easily be installed during drydock periods. Engine technology today can already burn 25% volumes of hydrogen and increased percentage will follow rapidly. The progressive addition of hydrogen in the mixture reduces the GHG emissions as it improves the H/C (hydrogen to carbon) ratio of the fuel, the combustion and reduces substantially the methane slip, making it negligible.

The concept offers a guaranteed path towards decarbonisation as well as the needed flexibility for an owner to manage the options when they become clear, and then proceed to serve the owner’s best interests.

What about the captured CO2?

For many hard to abate industries, carbon capture is, at present, the only option. As a result, it is forecast that by 2030 there will be 300m tonnes of CO2 to deal with, and numbers are growing rapidly. On the other hand, a ship can easily afford to deliver CO2 ashore much later than 2030.

Taking a multi-faceted approach

RINA is proactively working in all areas of decarbonisation. Shipowners can embrace ready solutions today to increase the efficiency of their operations. Examples include novel propulsion concepts and improved hull designs, bubble systems to increase aerodynamic performance, the addition of sails for wind power, digital tools that optimise fleet operations and routes, and the introduction of Solar Flatrack technology along with batteries to provide additional power.


By producing hydrogen on board, shipowners will take away the risks associated with using hydrogen as a fuel (such as availability and price) and embrace the advantages of its use today.

Giosuè Vezzuto, executive vice-president of marine at RINA, says: “RINA continues working to support decarbonisation throughout the industry on multiple fronts, including new technology, increasing operational efficiency and new fuels for both retrofits and newbuildings. While the challenges are great, this is also an exciting time for shipping, with many opportunities to create a stronger, more resilient industry for the future.”

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