Kongsberg Maritime and partners are working to create zero emission propulsion systems for the maritime industry

Hydrogen power — HySeas III puts it to the test

In 2016, Kongsberg Maritime joined partners including Ballard and Caledonian Maritime Assets (CMAL) to examine the possibility of powering maritime vessels with hydrogen fuel cells. Five years later, the project team is preparing to put a full-scale hybrid propulsion system to the test. 

  • Gunvor Hatling Midtbø
    Vice President, Communications

Eight years ago, the idea of a hydrogen-powered seagoing vessel was nothing more than a concept. This November, that concept takes a huge step closer to becoming a reality. 

Kongsberg Maritime and our partners in the HySeas III project are conducting the first tests of a full-scale maritime hybrid drive train using hydrogen fuel cells. It’s the latest phase in a project that will deliver a design for the world’s first zero-emission, hydrogen-powered passenger and car ferries.

Kjetil Olaf Paulsen image

"The aim of the project is to develop a complete propulsion system, and to design the vessel that will run on that system" Ketil Olaf Paulsen, Manager Technology, Kongsberg Maritime

“It began in Orkney [Scotland], where there is great investment in hydrogen power. The islands create their own hydrogen using wind power, and it’s already being used on public transport and in heating systems. So, when one of the ferries between two of the islands began to reach the end of its useful life, they started looking into a new ferry running on hydrogen.

“Our part of it was to deliver KONGSBERG technologies for managing the propulsion systems. That covers everything from integrating the hydrogen fuel cells with proven marine hybrid electric drive systems to hydrogen storage and bunkering — essentially everything related to propulsion.”

Maria Angrisani, Kristina Juelsgaard - Ballard Europa &  Hans Westad of KONGSBERG’s research and innovation department

Maria Angrisani, Kristina Juelsgaard - Ballard Europa & Hans Westad of KONGSBERG’s research and innovation department

“This was a real door opener for us,” says Hans Westad of KONGSBERG’s research and innovation department. “It was the first time we’d looked into using hydrogen fuel cells. The project has been extremely valuable — we’ve increased our competence in the field from almost zero to being the first company to run a complete string test of the entire system.

“We’ve learned a great deal. In fact, all the project partners have, both from the project and from each other. It has been a very fruitful relationship.” Hans Westad, KONGSBERG’s research and innovation department

Designing the fuel cells

The concept of a maritime propulsion system based on hydrogen fuel cells was so new that none of the project partners had experience in it. Even Ballard, who were already providing hydrogen fuel cells for use in public transport systems, had a great deal to learn. 

Kristina Fløche Juelsgaard

“We are very used to providing hydrogen fuel cells in the road transport sector, but when the project started we hadn’t been involved in any marine activities,” Kristina Fløche Juelsgaard, Director of Business Development with Ballard Europe

“The HySeas project was our opportunity to gain that experience. It was a much bigger task than we anticipated — our expectation was that we would be able to adapt the existing design. We quickly discovered that wasn’t the way to go. So, the decision from our side was to redesign the whole system.

“We used the same core elements, but we needed multiple, integrated modules to provide a much higher power level. Those needed new operational strategies for control, monitoring and operation and an overall management unit, which is provided by KONGSBERG. 

“These have been the two areas where we have really moved forward significantly with the HySeas project.”

Render of HYSEAS III hydrogen-powered ferry. ©CMAL

CMAL worked on the first two stages of the HySeas projects and became involved in HySeas III at the invitation of the University of St Andrews after Ferguson Marine went into liquidation in 2020. 

In the early stages the goal was the delivery of a finalised design for the new ferries. It quickly became apparent that this would be more complicated than anyone had originally anticipated. 

“The way we envisioned the project at the start was that the equipment KONGSBERG and Ballard would use in the string test would be incorporated into the design. We’ve faced a number of challenges in getting there." John Salton, C M Assets Fleet Manager and Projects Director

“One of the biggest is trying to get a vessel that runs on hydrogen through the classification and flag state authority rules — because there are no rules as yet for hydrogen vessels at sea. 

“That means the design must work on approval in principle, which means we’re making a lot of assumptions, not all of which will be correct. The fuel cells we were originally using, for example, have been superseded by a new, larger, marine approved type. Which meant the sizing of the first design had to change. 

“The string test, which is a great piece of engineering, will deliver lessons by bringing a full-scale working propulsion system together. And while we’re expecting that to identify more challenges, it will also ultimately make adoption of the equipment onto a fully designed ship much easier.”

The full-size test system has been constructed in an onshore facility in Bergen, allowing for more flexibility than would be possible in an offshore operation. “If we tried to do this testing on a vessel it would be much more demanding and carry much higher risks,” says Ketil Olaf Paulsen.

“Putting everything onshore means it's much easier to run and test different scenarios. 

“We’ve already done complete testing on a smaller scale version of the system, which allowed us to cover a lot of the basics. Now that we have a complete, full-scale system available, we can really see how complex this technology is. There’s a lot to gain and to learn.”

Safety first

The current testing isn’t only about the technology. It’s also about safety. This is an entirely new technology for marine vessels, and with that comes a huge variety of new safety considerations. 

“That’s our first priority,”says Hans Westad. “Safety testing has been quite demanding — we have to be quite sure that the people working on the project are put into difficult or dangerous situations. 

“What we're doing with this system is much more complex than anything we’ve done before. Everything from the input for the hydrogen to how we connect and control the electrics must be done safely. That’s over and above the complete safety tests we’ll run to make sure everything is working as it should.”

In fact, the system has already proven itself, when an unplanned hydrogen leak was detected and dealt with exactly as it should have been. “It was a great moment, because it showed we were doing everything right,” adds Hans. DSC04028.JPG.jpg

Ballard has also had important safety lessons to learn. To make sure they were learning the right way, they brought new people on board. “Some years ago, and as a direct result of this project, we hired our first naval system designer,” says Kristina Fløche Juelsgaard. “We needed a person with experience of maritime regulations to help us think about how to handle hydrogen on board ships. 

“Three years ago, there were no rules and regulations, because this simply hadn’t ever been done. Now we’re looking at how to handle bunkering, how to handle safety. We’ve participated in some working groups under the IEA Task Force for hydrogen and maritime applications. We’re sitting around a table with research institutes and other marine stakeholders, and together we’re coming up with recommendations on how to deal with this new technology. 

“We are not there yet. The rules or regulations are not finalised. But to be able to propose recommendations, and to chip in with experience based on our findings in HySeas, I think that's an important outcome of the project and one we can all be proud of.”

“We have to build new vessels to sustainable standards,” says John Salton, CMAL Fleet Manager and Projects Director. “We need to ensure that we reduce emissions as much as we can, hopefully to zero. And the technology exists. 

“It’s expensive. It’s still being developed. And as pioneers we will make mistakes. But we’re there, we’re at the front.

“Interestingly, HySeas III is already attracting interest from hydrogen suppliers. CMAL has been approached by community wind farms in Scotland, on the islands of Barra and Lewis and in Oban, as well as those in Orkney. They’re ready to provide the hydrogen when we need it. So that’s another part of the jigsaw, which is coming together reasonably well.”

Kristina agrees. Ballard, she says, would not be where it is today without the HySeas project, and it’s likely to impact the business for many years to come. 

“Our FC Wave hydrogen fuel cell products would not have the maturity they have today had it not been for the HySeas project,” she continues. “It has supported, pushed and provoked the design to bring it to the level it’s at today. 

“Thanks to HySeas and European funding, we have tripled our number of employees and our production capacity in just two and a half years, purely as a result of developing the FC wave modules. We have established a service and support centre for marine customers. Those are our personal achievements. 

“But we’re also proud to be supporting the ongoing efforts to decarbonise the marine industry. And we’re already working with Kongsberg Maritime on other projects. Together, we are paving the way.” 

KONGSBERG is also already looking beyond the HySeas III project to what comes next. 

“HySeas is based on pressurised hydrogen — we’re just starting work on another EU funded project to look into the use of liquified hydrogen,” says Ketil. “We’ll be able to take all the competence and experience we’ve gained from HySeas into that.  

“Looking back, we couldn't have imagined all the interest in hydrogen that has developed over the last two or three years. When we decided to join this project we weren’t sure how it would go. Now hydrogen seems to be the energy carrier for the future. I guess we did it right!”