Ferguson Marine Engineering has returned from bankruptcy with a new zeal for small vessels with innovative propulsion, evidenced by two ground-breaking hydrogen projects
The banks of the river Clyde may not teem with Scottish shipyard workers any longer, but one group is hoping that it can bring back the glory days of shipbuilding to Port Glasgow. It would be a double rebirth, with Ferguson Marine Engineering itself rescued from bankruptcy in 2014. If it can be done it will not be achieved by building the tugs and dredgers that formed the mainstay of the yard’s predecessor from 1903, but through its pioneering exploits with novel propulsion.
In the four years since the yard emerged from administration, it has delivered some notable UK firsts. These include completing a series of diesel-electric ferries for Scottish owner Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) – the yard delivered the first two shortly before going bankrupt – and then, in 2015, starting work on the UK’s first dual-fuelled vessels, again for CMAL. The first of these, the Glen Sannox, was delivered in November 2017 and the final vessel under the £97M (US$125M) contract is under construction.
“Over recent years Ferguson Marine has been at the global forefront of green marine propulsion technology development,” says chief naval architect Chris Dunn. Alongside a £25M investment in rebuilding the workforce, those innovative projects have positioned the company for the future. If recent awards are any indicator, that future could rest with a cutting-edge renewable energy scheme in the Orkney Islands.
“Over recent years Ferguson Marine has been at the global forefront of green marine propulsion technology development”
In June it was announced that Ferguson had led a consortium in a successful bid for European Union funding to build the world’s first sea-going car and passenger ferry fuelled by hydrogen. The Hyseas III consortium includes marine autonomy and systems supplier Kongsberg, fuel-cell specialist Ballard Power Systems, ferry operators’ association Interferry, Orkney Islands Council, the University of St Andrews, hydrogen production and distribution company McPhy and the German Aerospace Center. While the status of its world first remains to be seen, the project is at the very least among the first handful to trial hydrogen as a marine fuel.
The Kirkwall to Shapinsay ferry route is set to become an unlikely hydrogen fuel testbed
The project vessel is planned to operate in and around Orkney, which is already producing hydrogen from renewable energy produced through wind and tidal turbines. Mr Dunn explains that the initial design for the new vessel envisions a 40 m-long vessel with capacity for 120 passengers, 16 cars and two heavy goods vehicles. The vessel, which will boast a “landing craft-style hull”, will ply the four-mile, 25-minute service between Shapinsay and Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney.
More important is the power configuration and fuel storage. Pressurised tanks will store 1,000 kg of compressed hydrogen, to be converted into electricity by seven 100 kW fuel cells, for use in electric propulsion and storage in a lithium-ion battery system. The initial objective is to construct and prove the vessel’s modular drivetrain onshore, testing for stress and durability under conditions. For this the consortium will employ historic operating data from existing vessels. If that test is successful – as seems likely given the extent to which proven technology, including Ballard Power fuel cells, will be deployed – the vessel will be built by next year.
Under a community project known as Surf n Turf – reflecting the sea-based tidal systems and land-based windfarm – on the islands of Shapinsay and Eday, Orkney is producing more electricity than it can use and is thus using the electricity to power electrolysis, separating hydrogen from freshwater. The Hyseas III consortium will collaborate with Surf n Turf to provide the vessel with a hydrogen fuelling facility.
European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) has been deeply involved in the project in Orkney. Hydrogen development manager Jon Clipsham says: “Having invested in an electrolyser to generate hydrogen from Eday’s tidal and wind resources, EMEC has been exploring various opportunities to support the development of a hydrogen economy on the islands. The potential for developing hydrogen-powered vessels is one of the most exciting prospects, particularly given the number of carbon-intensive, inter-island ferries."
The HySeas programme was initiated by the University of St Andrews and CMAL in 2012. Since then it has gone from an early feasibility study to the point where, today, the focus can shift to testing and delivery. Under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation umbrella, EU will contribute €9.3M (US$10.5M) to the total project cost of €12.6M.
Ferguson Marine CEO Gerry Marshall says: “We have one of the most innovative shipyards in Europe which is capable of delivering ground-breaking projects for Inverclyde, Scotland and beyond. HySeas III is an example of how it can be possible to lead the world in marine technology.”
“If the study recommends that other areas could benefit from similar infrastructure, Ferguson will be in prime position”
Ferguson’s hydrogen ambitions do not end with Hyseas III, although they stay close at hand. In October the company announced a further grant, of £430,332 from Innovate UK, to design and integrate a hydrogen and diesel dual-fuel injection system onboard a commercial ferry. While Hyseas III aims to build a fuel-cell-powered ferry from new, this project – titled ‘Hydrogen Diesel Injection in a Marine Environment’ (HyDIME) – will explore using hydrogen in an internal combustion engine on another, existing Shapinsay ferry.
The focus of the project will be how the hydrogen injection system components fit on the vessel and interact with the dockside hydrogen storage solution. Analysis will be conducted to assess how the new system will impact the arrangement on the existing vessel. The ferry will have to be adapted to accommodate the new system and the hydrogen injection system integrated with the 75 kW auxiliary power unit onboard the vessel.
The current ferry has two generators, with one acting as back up. This level of redundancy means that the system under testing will have minimal impact on the service of the vessel. The impact on emissions however, is expected to be high; the consortium expects that hydrogen will replace 40-60% of the diesel fuel used on the ferry each year, or 7,500-11,500 litres.
That fuel saving may seem limited, but given the marine traffic around Orkney, the potential to scale up the supply of hydrogen fuel would be enormous, if both the dual-fuel injection and the fuel-cell-powered concepts are proven. As part of the project, the High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute (HSSMI) will conduct a scale-up analysis and carry out a techno-economic assessment of the current system and of potential scenarios. The aim is to determine if there are any other regions in the UK where similar hydrogen infrastructure could be implemented.
There is the potential upside of being a hydrogen pioneer. If the HSSMI study does recommend that other areas could benefit from similar infrastructure, Ferguson will be in prime position to bid for hydrogen shipbuilding business as it emerges.
The year-long HyDIME project is due to be completed in July 2019. By that time, the drivetrain for the fuel-cell-powered ferry will be under test and Ferguson will be preparing for construction of the vessel itself. One way or another, the resurgent Clydeside shipbuilder is planning on a hydrogen-fuelled future.