Hydrogen-powered project wins government funding for shipping

A consortium led by zero-emission pioneers ACUA Ocean and Unitrove has received government funding of £4 million to develop a project that could ensure cargo is transported between mainland Scotland and the islands using an autonomous vessel powered by hydrogen. The “Hydrogen Innovation – Future Infrastructure & Vessel Evaluation and Demonstration (HI-FIVED)” consortium will receive more than £3.8 million in funding to build and demonstrate its innovative autonomous vessels and bunkering infrastructure technologies for liquid hydrogen.

The £5.4 million project is expected to be completed in autumn 2024 and aims to establish a domestic green shipping route between Aberdeen and the Orkney and Shetland Islands, using autonomous hydrogen-powered vessels to carry cargo. The HI-FIVED consortium includes several key players in the maritime sector, including the Port of Aberdeen, the University of Southampton, Zero Emissions Maritime Technology, Composite Manufacturing and Design, Trident Marine Electrical and NASH Maritime. Unitrove, the maker of the world’s first liquid hydrogen bunkering facility, will deploy its mobile fuel technology at the Port of Aberdeen in support of ACUA Ocean’s bid to build and operate the world’s first autonomous ship powered by liquid hydrogen on the surface of the sea. The project is part of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition Round 3 (CMDC3), announced in September 2022, funded by the Department for Transport and run in partnership with Innovate UK. As part of the CMDC3, the ministry has allocated £60 million to 19 flagship projects supported by 92 UK organisations to carry out real-world demonstration R&D projects on clean maritime solutions. The projects are taking place in multiple locations across the UK, from as far north as the Shetland Islands and as far south as Cornwall.

The CMDC3 is part of the flagship multi-year CMDC programme of the UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions (UK SHORE). In March 2022, the Department announced the largest ever government investment in our commercial maritime sector, allocating £206 million to UK SHORE, a new division within the Department for Transport focused on decarbonising the maritime sector. UK SHORE will deliver a series of interventions over 2022-2025 aimed at accelerating the design, manufacture and operation of clean maritime technologies produced in the UK and unlocking an industry-focused transition to net zero.
Michael Tinmouth, COO of ACUA Ocean, said, “Delivering successful technology demonstrations is crucial to making future investments in maritime decarbonisation less risky. This CMDC3 project brings together a consortium of innovative partners, subcontractors and suppliers from the maritime sector, all focused on the need to reduce emissions and accelerate the adoption and commercialisation of new technologies.”

Steven Lua, CEO of Unitrove, said, “We are absolutely delighted to receive support from the UK government to demonstrate in the real world the world first of an autonomous liquid hydrogen-based ship and infrastructure. Having built a strong consortium of eight fantastic partners across the supply chain, we can be confident that we will deliver something truly remarkable.” Marlene Mitchell, Commercial Manager of the Port of Aberdeen, said, “We are delighted to be part of this transformational project, which is fully in line with our green ambitions and those of the wider project team.” Zero emission fuels and ships are a key element in achieving decarbonisation in the maritime sector and green shipping lanes will play a key element in achieving the sector’s goals. This project provides a unique opportunity for our newly operational South Harbour to act as a practical and scaled test bed for net zero in the port and maritime sector and will directly address the issue of zero emission infrastructure. It will also look at the feasibility of developing onshore renewable energy generation to power ships in line with the UK Department for Transport’s 2019 Clean Maritime Plan.”
Professor of Maritime Fluid Dynamics Stephen Turnock, head of the Department of Civil, Maritime and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southampton, said, “We are excited to do our bit to understand the techno-economic challenges of how autonomous ships can help shift trade to zero-emission ships and deliver coastal highways.” Madadh MacLaine, CEO of Zero Emissions Maritime Technology, said, “We can do this and we will do it with the support of DfT and Innovate UK. The UK government is committed to zero emissions maritime transport and supports UK innovators who are fully committed to tackling climate change. The partners in our consortium do not compromise. Yes, we face an existential crisis, but the problem can be solved and we are here to solve it.”

Warwick Buckley, Managing Director of Composite Manufacturing and Design, said, “It is very exciting to be involved in this highly innovative and green project and to be part of the team that aims to achieve zero emissions in the maritime sector.” Lee Sidaway, Director of Trident Marine Electrical, said, “Trident Marine Electrical is delighted to be part of the consortium that has received funding from Innovate UK CMDC Round 3. By visualising a greener, more sustainable future for the industry, we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of developing this exciting innovative technology. This is great news, not just for Trident, but for the maritime industry as it continues to evolve.”

Dr Timothy Wilkes, Innovation Lead at NASH Maritime, said, “NASH Maritime is delighted to be part of this consortium and use our maritime risk expertise to develop pioneering safety case development and risk management approaches for alternative fuels and unmanned systems in a real-world context. The Marine Safety Management System we will develop will fill the gap that currently exists between ship operator, port authority and regulator. This fits perfectly with our vision of a sustainable and accident-free maritime environment.” UK Transport Minister Mark Harper said, “Our maritime sector imports 95% of goods to the UK and contributes £116 billion to our economy – more than both aviation and rail combined. “With growing the economy one of the government’s top priorities, we must continue our efforts to ensure the UK remains a pioneer in cutting-edge clean maritime solutions. This funding will help to do just that, bring emission-free concepts to life and drive innovation.” ACUA Ocean and Unitrove were previously successful in receiving funding in the CMDC2 bid to explore the development of an innovative Zero-Emission Multi-Fuel Station (ZEMFS) that would power hydrogen and electric vessels.