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In April, e1 Marine received AiP for its M-series methanol-to-hydrogen generator. The technology, which will be applied to the Hydrogen One – reportedly the world’s first methanol-fuelled tow boat is expected to act as a springboard for enabling the demonstration of the generator across different maritime sectors, from ports and towboats to offshore and deep-sea vessels. Bunkerspot speaks with the company’s Managing Director, Robert Schluter, to find out more.

The approval in principle (AiP) from Lloyd’s Register in April was seen as an important milestone for e1 Marine’s M-series methanol-to-hydrogen generator. The technology will feature onboard the Hydrogen One, reportedly the world’s first methanol-fuelled towboat that will join Maritime Partners’ fleet and will be available for charter in 2023. According to the company’s Managing Director, Robert Schluter, there are several reasons why the technology is well placed to help with the shipping industry’s decarbonisation.

‘Fuel cells have been commercialised for more than 20 years and they hit all of the right notes from an operator perspective in regard to their environmental goals because they produce zero pollution and zero greenhouse gas,’ says Schluter. ‘All of it fits really well and it’s established, off-the-shelf technology.’

However, the main challenge for widespread adoption of fuel cells, says Schluter, boils down to hydrogen. In its gaseous state there are applications in shore-based type scenarios where liquid or gas hydrogen may be appropriate, but on most vessels – ‘anything that has a high kilowatt load over any kind of range or distance’ – it is not possible to store enough hydrogen onboard to accomplish the voyage. Another issue is the cost of storage of a gas or liquid hydrogen is relatively high – ‘sometimes more than the technology that replaces it’ - while on the operational side, the cost of the hydrogen is also high if it’s gas or liquid.

‘It’s inexpensive to make at the point of the generation of the hydrogen – it might be $1.50 per kilogram,’ says Schluter. ‘If you’re a large organisation such as Maersk, you’re probably buying that hydrogen at $8-$10 a kilogram. But for a typical end-user it’s going to be more than that – in that $12-$16 [range]. And if you talk about us as individuals driving a hydrogen-fuelled car, you might be paying $16-$20 a kilogram.’

Schluter continues: ‘So, the cost of that hydrogen is quite high whereas when you convert methanol and water with the generator into hydrogen at the point of use, we can do it for about $4 a kilogram.’

e1 Marine Hydrogen One file

Schluter says over the last four years he has observed a change in the industry’s perception of the technology. Previously, initial interest would amount to small-scale demonstration projects to validate the technology in the marine space, however, this has now been replaced with a larger operators committing to building a first vessel in a series.

‘Now we’re at the implementation phase,’ says Schluter. ‘I’m working with all the largest naval architecture firms and they’re coming up with their best practice and their designs.’

Understanding the operational profile of each vessel is fundamental. For instance, a harbour craft, says Schluter, which has short bursts of high output followed by longer periods of idling is going to be ‘very battery centric’ and the fuel cell and methanol-to-hydrogen generator is going to be more like a battery charger. In contrast, a vessel with a high sustained base load of smaller increments of high intensity power, says Schluter, will be more fuel cell centric.

‘It really depends how you design the vessel.’

The methanol-fuelled Hydrogen One towboat will join Maritime Partners’ fleet and will be available for charter in 2023. The vessel will have an operational range of 550 miles before refuelling.

‘With this craft, what we found out was it’s a baseload type scenario but it was a fairly low baseload but then I had a three hour sustained 70% power [scenario] than I needed, so it created a very large battery,’ says Schluter. ‘What we determined was that the weight of that battery was such that it was making the vessel larger than we wanted. Even though the integration based on the operational profile was more battery centric, we reduced the size of the battery due to weight constraints and increased the fuel cell and reformer capacity to meet those larger load requirements.’

The challenge of space requirements is a common issue when it comes to trying to apply new technologies to existing vessels – and this is something which e1 Marine’s solution with its three components (fuel cell, hydrogen generator and battery) must contend with.

‘Methanol has half the energy density, so even though we claw that back with higher efficiency and the use of water which we recirculate from the fuel cell, it’s still, from a fuel perspective, probably a third more fuel than you would need if it were a diesel scenario,’ says Schluter. ‘And the space for the other three components is more than a couple of diesel engines.’

Other challenges for incorporating the technology cited by Schluter relate to organisation.

‘You’re looking at a two year process; from concept to getting something on the water if we’re talking about a tug,’ says Schluter. ‘There’s a lot of learning and education that goes on here. It’s basically working on the basics with the naval architects and the ship builders and everybody else on how you put these different types of systems together.’

Announcing the class approval in April, e1 Marine said it expected the AiP to act as a springboard for other segments of the marine industry. The company is currently engaged in conversations for offshore vessels focused on a containerised solution involving 4-6 containers on a purpose-built ship to provide the prime power together with batteries. It is also preparing a quote for a bulk food carrier and is in discussions about 200 kilowatt workboats in Singapore.

‘I would say where we play is everywhere from workboats up to about 5-6 megawatts,’ says Schluter. ‘Then, if we’re talking about auxiliary power typically that’s going to be in the 300-500 megawatt range in a containerised solution.’

Moreover, the company’s methanol-to-hydrogen generator technology is also attracting interest onshore.

‘We’ve got one LOI [letter of intent] established with a US port and I think we’re going to be engaged with a European port in the coming weeks,’ says Schluter. ‘I’ve got two other ports in the US that are strongly looking at this and that’s for cold ironing.’

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