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Thursday, December 2, 2021 

ABB Marine & Ports has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Maritime Partners (MP), Elliott Bay Design Group (EBDG) and e1 Marine to develop a hydrogen-powered inland towboat for operation in the US.

The 27m towboat, Hydrogen One, designed to push barges along inland waterways, is intended for deployment on the 14,500-mile waterway network that extends from the Port of New Orleans, operating along the Mississippi River and its many tributaries.

Hydrogen One will be able to travel with a load for about four days at the speed of 6 mile/h, covering about 550 miles before the need to refuel. The vessel’s propulsion system will be capable of generating up to 2,700hp propulsion power, with 1,700hp generated by fuel cell and the remaining 1,000 provided by the battery. The vessel will be operated by MP.

The towboat will convert methanol to hydrogen directly on board deploying a hydrogen generator by e1 Marine, to convert a mixture of methanol and water into fuel-cell grade high-purity hydrogen. Hydrogen generated by this process will be fed into the fuel cells to generate electricity. Onboard hydrogen production will eliminate complexities typically associated with direct fuelling and storage of hydrogen. This approach results in no particulate matter emissions and less than 80% CO2 emissions compared to an electrolyser solution using electrical power derived from fossil fuel sources. If methanol comes from a renewable energy source, the energy chain can be carbon-neutral.

Methanol is currently available as a bunker fuel at many terminals and is easy to handle and store. It can be transferred to the vessel in a manner similar to conventional fuels and does not need to be stored under pressure.

Towboats, tugs and other service vessels are increasingly coming under scrutiny for their alignment with environmental agendas. Traditional towboats operate with the main engines and generators engaged at all times, which can mean poor utilisation of onboard power and increased fuel consumption. With an electric system, fuel cells and batteries can provide the right power exactly when needed.

Having pioneered the development of integrated power systems for a variety of ship types and marine fuels, ABB will provide the full electrical propulsion plant for the vessel, including electric motors, transformers, as well as the integration of fuel cells and batteries. ABB’s Onboard DC Grid power distribution system will ensure that the fuel cell and battery output is delivered to the towboat’s subsystems in the most optimal way. The overall power setup will be controlled by ABB's Power and Energy Management System (PEMS), which will increase fault tolerance and provide high reliability while ensuring the maximum lifetime for the batteries.

MP COO Austin Sperry said: “As a leading provider, lessor and financier of towboats, tank barges and other workboats, we see this ground-breaking project as a major opportunity to advance sustainability in workboat operations in the US and beyond. For fuel cell deployment along one of the most extensive inland waterway networks in the world, commitment from a partner overseeing 550 towboats is an excellent place to start.”

David Lee, Senior Account Manager, Commercial Vessels, ABB Marine and Ports said: “We can make a real difference to efficiency and sustainability in the workboat sector, and have a transformative impact on air quality given that these vessels often operate close to centres of population. With this technology, we can offer U.S. shipyards, as well as state and federal agencies, significant support on their journey towards more sustainable operations.”

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