Using river power in river boats proves the value clean waterborne operations

The EU funded FLAGSHIPS project is supporting the construction of a hydrogen fuel powered barge push boat  in the French city of Lyon, one that will get its clean hydrogen form the Rhone’s hydroelectric power in a truly virtuous circle.

Expertise from several European countries is working together to create one of the most visible and demonstratable commercial hydrogen-fuel cell marine solutions in South France.

The EU funded FLAGSHIPS project has two main parts to it. One is the creation of the  hydrogen fuel cell and power system for a Norwegian public ferry service, the other is for  this powerful push boat that will operate in Lyon.

The Rhone is more than just one of Europe’s great rivers flowing from the glaciers of Switzerland to the French coastline. It is also one of France’s major trade arteries and a significant source of renewable electricity for the country.

On this 276km stretch between the port of Marseille and Lyon (these cities represent two of the three biggest cities in France) 11 hydroelectric power stations generate clean electricity off the river’s natural power.

There is also a regular convoy of barges being pushed up and down the river between these two great cities – imported cargo upstream and cargo for export downstream. When these barges reach Lyon they are dropped off, and the river tugs  pick up another and head off south to the coast.

It is the operations in Lyon where these barges get moved between convoy positions and loading cranes that a unique new hydrogen fuel-cell powered push-boat will operate soon.

FLAGSHIPS leading the way

The EU funded Flagship project has two main parts to it. One is the creation of the  hydrogen fuel cell and power system for a Norwegian public ferry service, the other is for  this powerful push boat that will operate in Lyon shuttling empty and loaded barges from the loading cranes to the  standby area and other highly visible roles in the French city.

The tug design is for two 200 kW fuel cells – the Norwegian ferry will have three of the same – connected to a mobile compressed-hydrogen fuel tank.  This fuel tank can be removed and refilled with green hydrogen which will be created at an electrolysis plant using power from the Rhône hydroelectric dams.

Victor Laravoire, Newbuilding Project Manager at transport group Sogestran, which owns subsidiary Compagnie Fluviale De Transport, a member of the Flagship project and future owner of the hydrogen push boat. He points to the virtuous circle of this project . “The great river’s water flow will create the energy, which will create the hydrogen which then is used on a barge on the river. On the barge the water formed in the fuel cell reaction to create power is then returned to the river as the bi-product from the fuel cell”.

The push-boat design will be for a mobile fuel tank  with a 300kg compressed hydrogen capacity, enough to power the pusher tug for two weeks says Laravoire. When it is empty it will be replaced by a second tank, and the first one taken by road to the  refilling station located just beside the dock area to be refilled with compressed hydrogen.

As this pusher-tug will operate in the city centre of Lyon – one of its other proposed roles will be for the municipal authorities dealing with special garbage barges on the city’s riverside – safety has to be a priority.

“We are working closely with the French administration and with class as there are no rules on how to put hydrogen on these vessels” says Laravoire. “We want to be sure we do not miss anything. We are helping build the next set of safety rules for the use of hydrogen-powered fuel cells.”

With the design of the push tug quite well advanced, CFT has tenders out for a yard to build the vessel and have delivery in mid 2021.

About FLAGSHIPS Project

Flagship is a €6.8m project under the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking and funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 framework programme.

FCH-JU is a public Private partnership supporting research, technological development and demonstration activities in Europe. It t’s aim it to accelerate the market introduction of these technologies and realise their potential in achieving a clean energy system. The three members of the FCH-JU are the European Commission, Hydrogen Europe and Hydrogen Europe Research.

Participating companies in the FLAGSHIPS project include nine European partners, with two ship owners Norled (NO) and CFT (FR),  the maritime OEM ABB, supplier of power and automation solutions Westcon Power & Automation (NO) and naval architect company LMG Marin (NO & FR).

World-leading fuel cell technology is provided by Ballard Europe (DK) and vessel energy monitoring and management by PersEE (FR). Management, dissemination activities and hydrogen safety expertise are provided by VTT (FI) and industry cluster NCE Maritime CleanTech (NO).

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