The world’s first ship to be powered using a solid form of hydrogen — said to be far safer and easier to store than compressed or liquid H2 — is due to go into operational trials at the Port of Amsterdam next June.

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The Neo Orbis passenger vessel — designed to operate in Amsterdam’s canals and in the channel between the city and the North Sea — will be powered by hydrogen released from a salt called sodium borohydride (NaBH4).

This solid chemical is mixed with pure water and a stabiliser to form a non-combustible liquid fuel, with the dissolved NaBH4 then reacting with a catalyst to release hydrogen, which is then used to drive a fuel cell.

The Neo Orbis will be built by Dutch shipbuilder Next Generation Shipyards after it won a competitive tender from the Port of Amsterdam and H2Ships project, which is co-funded by the EU.

“The major advantage of this hydrogen carrier is its high energy density and that it can be bunkered safely in many places,” said Interreg North West Europe, an organsation sponsoring the H2Ships project.

“The ship will pave the way for scaling-up of this technology for inland and short-sea shipping.”

According to Galaxy FCT, a Malaysian company working on NaBH4 solutions, the stable solid can be stored at ambient temperatures and pressures, and release 126kg of hydrogen per cubic metre — compared to 71kgH2/m3 for liquid hydrogen, which needs to be kept below temperatures of minus 253°C, or 42kgH2/m3 for compressed hydrogen (700 bar).

A long-term aim of the project is to create a closed loop system in which heat produced by the catalytic process can warm the interior of the Neo Orbis while the water is recycled and the residual material — sodium metaborate (NaBO2) — is turned into new sodium borohydride fuel in a reaction with water and a reducing agent such as magnesium.