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Regulatory harmony key to EU’s maritime H2 ambitions

Ad hoc national regulations threaten to stymie bloc’s hopes of weaning shipping industry off fossil fuels

Decarbonising Europe’s maritime sector will require unified regulations governing hydrogen-powered vessels, subsidised hydrogen prices and loan guarantees, industry experts believe.

Hydrogen is integral to the European Green Deal, which aims to make the EU net zero for global warming emissions by 2050—yet there are no Europe-wide regulations governing hydrogen-powered ships.

Financial institutions, shipbuilders and shipowners need a comprehensive and predictable legal framework to invest in building such craft, Lionel Boillot, project manager at Europe’s Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH2 JU), told Norway’s fifth International Conference on Maritime Hydrogen and Marine Energy.

National maritime authorities determine approval for hydrogen-powered vessels on an ad hoc basis, according to a report by umbrella association Hydrogen Europe that warns of “a very clear and highly damaging regulatory gap”. Approving ship designs is lengthy, costly and unpredictable.

“There is a very clear and highly damaging regulatory gap” Hydrogen Europe

“We are dependent on funding and policy decisions to be made at a couple of different levels,” says Donagh Cagney, policy director at Ocean Energy Europe, a non-profit whose members include 120 maritime industry organisations.

Cagney describes the difficulties in successfully advancing pilot schemes to the commercial stage. Doing so requires feed-in tariffs that enable hydrogen producers to compete against other fuels. Grants, and publicly guaranteed equity and loans, are also needed to make up funding shortfalls. “You can get some private investment, but you are going to need to close that gap,” says Cagney.

The European Clean Hydrogen Alliance will focus on developing modular and scalable fuel cell systems and on-board hydrogen storage. Next, the alliance will integrate “the fuel cell and the hydrogen storage within a ship design and validate and test this solution on board a real ship,” says Boillot.

Various EU funding programmes run until 2027. These include the Innovation Fund for large-scale, first-of-a-kind demonstration projects that could cost more than €100mn.

“The maritime sector is diverse, with different vessels operating in different conditions, which means fuel cells developed for these ships will be of different technologies,” says Boillot, noting these include proton-exchange membrane and solid oxide fuel cells.

Fuel types will also vary and include gaseous and liquid hydrogen, ammonia and methanol, he adds.

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