Global wind giant Vestas’ trial of the “world’s first” hydrogen-powered crew transfer vessel (CTV) at Belgium’s Norther Wind Farm could pave the way for the company using green H2 to slash its emissions by a third.

Vestas is planning to go carbon neutral by 2030 without the use of offsets. With offshore operations accounting for a third of its scope 1 and 2 emissions, hydrogen could present an opportunity to decarbonise this segment without loss of power, the company said.

But hydrogen will play a relatively small role in the pilot project, which will see the new dual-fuel CTV run primarily on marine gas oil (MGO) supplemented by hydrogen — rather than running solely on H2, Vestas tells Recharge.

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And green hydrogen made from renewable energy will not play a role at all: the CTV, set to be launched by Vestas in collaboration with Windcat Workboats next week to run until the end of 2022, will use grey hydrogen made from natural gas.

The scheme is expected to deliver carbon savings of 37% against a traditional vessel during the pilot project, the turbine manufacturer said.

Green hydrogen is not yet available in the quantities needed, Vestas said, adding that it hopes the pilot will “mature a pathway” for green H2 in its offshore operations so that it can switch when the market has reached “the required level of maturity” – although the company would not be drawn on how it defines this, or how much hydrogen it expects to use as part of the trial.

Vestas also plans to use the trial to explore how it can scale up the use of hydrogen in its offshore operations, collecting insights into the “opportunities and limitations” of H2-powered vessels day-to-day.

As a result, green hydrogen could have a significant role to play if the company finds that it is an effective way to power its shipping fleet.

“Hard to abate sectors, such as shipping, will be the final frontier in our global journey towards decarbonisation,” said Christian Venderby, Vestas’ executive vice-president of service. “Hydrogen is a crucial technology to advance this journey, which is why Vestas is eager to test its potential to reduce emissions from our service operations.”

However the efficiency of pure H2 as a marine fuel is questionable, and could turn out to be more expensive for the company than installing a battery-powered electric motor. The fuel must be either be compressed or liquefied — the latter at temperatures of minus 253°C — both of which entail energy losses and therefore cost compared to batteries. Liquid hydrogen also needs robust containers that will maintain cryogenic temperatures and contain boil-off, and in its compressed form will require a large amount of space on-board.

Nevertheless, Vestas may have calculated that the capital cost of converting its whole shipping fleet to electric motors outweighs the costs of switching to dual-fuel and gradually phasing in hydrogen, or only using it some of the time. This last approach could open up the company to accusations of greenwashing, especially given the high carbon content of MGO.

“By using dual-fuel combustion engines, we can make hydrogen technology operational in the industry and kick-start further development of the technology, regulation [and] supply chain,” said Willem van der Wel, managing director of Windcat Workboats.

“Collaborations like these are what is needed to be able to scale this technology further and we thank Vestas for taking this first step.”