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Hydrogen Ships Now


Rarely do I read an article that makes my blood boil. But this article by the has done just that. While a number of us are pushing for hydrogen autos or at least cleaner standards for all autos there are gross polluting ships at sea that are spewing out more sulfur into the air than all of the world’s autos combined.

Now, I’m not talking about replacing standard boats with hydrogen boats like I’ve talked about in the past. I’m talking about supertankers and other large vessels such as container ships, cruise liners, oil tankers and tugboats. These ships burn unrefined high sulfur “bunker oil” which is basically the cheapest sludge left over from the refineries instead of low sulfur, clean diesel fuel.

According to the Mail Online, “As ships get bigger, the pollution is getting worse. The most staggering statistic of all is that just 16 of the world’s largest ships can produce as much lung-clogging sulphur pollution as all the world’s autos. Because of their colossal engines, each as heavy as a small ship, these super-vessels use as much fuel as small power stations.

“But, unlike power stations or autos, they can burn the cheapest, filthiest, high-sulphur fuel: the thick residues left behind in refineries after the lighter liquids have been taken. The stuff nobody on land is allowed to use … Bunker fuel is also thick with sulphur. IMO rules allow ships to burn fuel containing up to 4.5 per cent sulphur. That is 4,500 times more than is allowed in auto fuel in the European Union. The sulphur comes out of ship funnels as tiny particles, and it is these that get deep into lungs.

“Thanks to the IMO’s rules, the largest ships can each emit as much as 5,000 tons of sulphur in a year – the same as 50 million typical autos, each emitting an average of 100 grams of sulphur a year.”

The sad irony of some of this is that the same supertankers that are delivering crude oil to refineries to create clean diesel fuel are themselves burning unrefined oil or the equivalent of tar or asphalt and belching it into the air. While converting these mammoth vessels to hydrogen powered ships may not be practical right now, this should at least be a goal that we are working on.

The first practical step is to convert these polluting beasts to clean diesel fuel. The next step is transitioning these gross polluters to hydrogen ships. It is unbelievable in this day and age that autos and power plants are more highly regulated and cleaner than the largest polluters on Earth, which are these large super vessels spewing all sorts of toxins as they travel our oceans, harbors and other waterways.

The next time you think about traveling upon a cruise ship for a little vacation think about what you’ll be breathing as you’re sipping your Pina Colada. Chances are that you may do a little belching and spewing of your own.

About Hydro Kevin Kantola

Hydro Kevin Kantola
I'm a hydrogen auto blogger, editor and publisher interested in documenting the history and the progression of hydrogen autos, vehicles and infrastructure worldwide.

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  1. Avatar

    Great article. However, I do not see the need for the interim step of clean diesel conversion. All ships entering US ports are currently required to switch to diesel, A) To reduce pollution in harbors, and prevent the bunker sea black belching when the engines change direction and B) Diesel is more reliable during maneuvering, and less likely to bring down the power plant.
    Ships are huge with complete systems of a city, Fresh water production via desalination, Sewer sanitation process before discharge, huge power systems for propulsion, separate and distinct systems for electrical production to power crew housing, autogo operations. With that in mind ships could be producing H2 on board from Solar systems. In addition, Wind Assist systems for added sail power is long over-due. Proto-types have been built and proven effective. The United States Coast Guard Licensing for the Navigation officer on board includes vessels both motor and sail.
    Very few modernizations to the merchant fleet occur without Legislative decree, that’s just the way it is. Double-holds on supertankers were a long time coming after massing devastating oil spills. The industry tries to operate each vessel on a shoe-string budget. Ironic I know, the initial capital investment in ships is huge and the industry is highly subsidized worldwide to promote commerce/trade.
    I completely agree with the theme of your article, the shipping industry should be an Icon of Green environmentally sound business practices.

  2. Avatar


    please rest assured that we are currently working on projects that will reduce considerably the marine markets emissions.

    Test results out on one ship over next month or so, currently at UNIVERSITY under test.

    kind regards


  3. Avatar

    Governments have paid lip service to a cleaner environment , and that’s it. They have little or no intention to do anything real about it.

    Meanwhile, the little time we have to make a difference is fast running out. The politicians will leave a curse on
    our children and grandchildren, to condemn them to a
    substandard life, on a planet they helped rape & toxify

    What will it take us to force the politicians to stop playing pass the parcel with existential problems?

  4. admin

    This response was emailed to me by Michael R.:

    Seawater is easier to split than fresh, right? If a ship can tap into undersea currents…

    Since a ship has tons of steel in it these days anyways, why not store hydrogen in the steel? A ship can handle a much bigger hydrogen tank than a auto can, though you only need so much tank if you split seawater as you go. If one can figure out how to harvest the salts and recycle them, that would be good too.

    High pressure or even large fairly low pressure hydrogen tanks are an option, but there are other options as well. Tanks with iron balls in them that soak up the hydrogen. Laser metal hydride disks and one decent size battery. Even hydrnol may make more sense for ships than it does for trucks. If Oil is done away with, there is no more need for a double hull. I like the iron hydride idea as iron should be fairly cheap.

    I think the methanol solar hybrid system might be interesting on a ship.

  5. Avatar

    The energy of water electrolysis to produce hydrogen is 5-15 times larger than obtaining hydrogen from other, organic and renewable, substances.
    This hydrogen, even in small quantities, will decerase the use of bunker fuels by 15-30%.
    Although hydrogen in ships is not a new idea, the most efficient method of creating renewable hydrogen is protected by a suite of over 15 patents.
    The add-on hydrogen generators from renewable feedstocks, or even using the vessel’s own fuel, are available now.
    Making RH2 from water would require absolutely huge energy consumption for electrolysis, which would defeat the purpose.

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