Peter Crawley, Research Policy Officer Waterborne Transport with the European Commission’s DG Research & Innovation

New Horizons

The HySeas III project is being supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 framework programme. It’s the third and final part of a series of projects funded through the programme. Together they have examined the theory of hydrogen-powered vessels (HySeas I) and created a technical and commercial study to design such a vessel (HySeas II).

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  • Gunvor Hatling Midtbø
    Vice President, Communications

We spoke with Peter Crawley, Research Policy Officer Waterborne Transport with the European Commission’s DG Research & Innovation. He explained how European funding helps combine the expertise that will develop the new technologies needed to achieve the EU’s ambitious decarbonisation targets. 

“All the Horizon Research and Innovation projects are founded around consortia,” he says. “They bring together the best expertise from different countries and different organisations, academia and industry. These consortia are all focused on one objective – in this case, HySeas IIIis making a contribution towards achieving zero emissions shipping,which is beyond what would be possible with batteries alone. 

“They’re brought together by the publication of calls for proposals with specific topics. In 2017 we offered quite an open topic concerning advanced ferries, referring to low emissions solutions, and so on. The projects were evaluated by independent experts and the three best were selected, including HySeas III. 

“It’s something that’s very topical at the moment. The challenge of achieving clean, decarbonized shipping is top of the agenda. When she launched the European Green Deal strategy, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission announced an ambition for Europe to become the first climate neutral continent by 2050. 

“Even by 2030 the EU has passed climate law expecting a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, including waterborne transport which is  seen as a hard to decarbonize sector.”

The original scope of Hyseas III, Peter explains, was to develop both the power system and for this to be demonstrated on the ferry route between two of Scotland’s Orkney Islands, powered by locally-produced renewable hydrogen. 

Over time and as lessons were learned, the project narrowed its focus into creating a working propulsion system and designing the vessel. “That’s what happens with research projects,” he continues. “Sometimes you learn as much from what isn’t possible as you learn from what is.

“HySeas III is an important project in proving the value and the potential for hydrogen in a practical application, where it's likely to be one of the first type of deployments for a ferry service. From the original concept, it was very clearly something that would demonstrate the feasibility of that.  

“What will be excellent is to see this actually taken up and put in a service that we actually see running. It will prove viability and give us confidence about the costs and practicalities of operating this kind of service.”

The purpose of Horizon 2020 funding, Peter says, isn’t simply to look at theories – it’s to deliver impacts. And he’s confident that HySeas III will deliver those impacts over time.

“What we want to see is research and innovation,” he adds. “Sometimes you’ll hear people who work in research refer to the 'valley of death' – it’s what happens after the research project ends. 

“We don't want to see HySeas III go there. It’s already proving the technology through this testing. The next step is to place it into a ship. From there, it’s to think about how to use what we’ve learned to decarbonise big ships. All of these things are stepping stones. 

“It’s all quite urgent now. If we're looking at decarbonizing by 55% by 2030, that's not so far away, especially considering the lifetime of a ship. So it's urgent to get these first applications out there. That’s what Horizon 2020 funding and projects like HySeas III are trying to achieve.”