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Friday, July 23, 2021 

UK-based clean energy solutions provider Unitrove hopes to showcase the world’s first liquid hydrogen bunkering facility for fuelling zero-emission ships in time for the UN COP26 conference, scheduled to be held in Glasgow from the beginning of November 2021.

Liquid hydrogen - or LH₂ - is stored at the cryogenic temperatures of  −253 °C (−423 °F) and has been used for decades for launching space vehicles, and is now being seriously explored for commercial heavy-duty mobility applications, including shipping.

Unitrove says it was behind the UK’s first LNG bunkering facility at Teesport in May 2015 (see illustration).

CEO Steven Lua said: “The global maritime sector is one of the most polluting in the world. It’s estimated that just a handful of the worst-polluting mega ships on our oceans today produce more pollution than all the world’s cars put together. That’s a staggering statistic, and one we simply cannot ignore if we stand any chance of achieving the net zero target set by the Government. It’s easy for people to forget about the issues that the sector brings because it’s not in the public eye and it requires international collaboration to solve. When the IMO 2020 regulations came into force, most ship operators did the bare minimum necessary.”

Lua said liquid hydrogen as a commercial fuel was relatively unexplored as an option - but that it had great potential for many uses, including plugging the gap where electric and compressed hydrogen cannot reach.

 "We already see very early signs of light-duty vessels being battery-driven or powered by compressed gaseous hydrogen, but liquid hydrogen will allow us to serve the heavier portion of the shipping fleet where we hope to have a much larger impact," he said. "We are also exploring options including ammonia, liquid organic hydrogen carriers, and solid hydrogen in the form of sodium borohydride. However, we understand that priority is currently being given to the development of international standards and regulations for pure hydrogen, and this could play a significant factor in the long run. We believe that hydrogen will be recognised as a global commodity that will be traded in the same way that natural gas is today. The bunker fuel market is worth an estimated US$ 120bn, so there is a huge opportunity not only in environmental and social terms, but also financially.”

Lua added: “The average lifespan of a large ship is anywhere between 20 to 40 years, meaning any ship procured today could potentially still be operating well beyond 2050. And there’s currently no drive for clean-fuel ships because there’s no clean-fuel bunkering infrastructure - it’s practically non-existent. Without zero-emission fuelling infrastructure, there will be no drive for zero-emission ships. In terms of infrastructure, there’s nothing significant in place today, and we are here to change that. Our liquid hydrogen bunkering facility being unveiled at COP26 will be a real flag in the sand.”

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