Just over two years from now, you might be standing on the deck of the vessel that became the world’s first zero emission car ferry powered by hydrogen. Three cluster partners play significant roles in making this happen; Norled, Westcon Power & Automation and LMG Marin.


The car ferry ‘Hjelmeland’ on its way from the Hjelmeland to Nesvik in early autumn 2018. In 2021 the voyage it will be emission-free.

In November 2018 Norled was awarded the contract for developing, building and operating two zero-emission ferries on the Hjelmeland-Nesvik-Skipavik crossing in Norway. Both ferries will be battery-driven and all-electric, while one off them in addition will have hydrogen fuel cells installed onboard, being able to provide more than 50 percent of the required energy .

– The ferry will have all the power it needs in the batteries installed onboard. The hydrogen driven fuel cells will be an additional system that will produce  half of the required energy for propulsion and hotel load annually. The ferries are operating as part of the national road infrastructure so we cannot allow operational downtime. Fuel cells onboard ships is a new thing and we may need to shut down the hydrogen system at times for checks, corrections and maintenance, Project Manager Ivan Østvik of operator Norled, says.

In January 2019 Norled officially signed the contract with The Norwegian Public Roads Administration. Westcon Power & Automation will develop and deliver the power system, while LMG Marin will design the complete vessel. All three companies are partners of the NCE Maritime CleanTech cluster.

– Now that we have signed the contract with the Public Roads Administration, we are starting the contractual processes with shipyards and other suppliers. Most of the suppliers are in place, and we are on schedule with the project, says Ivan Østvik.


The supply chain challenge

Project Manager, Ivan Østvik, from shipowner and operator Norled.

The historic first voyage with a liquid hydrogen powered car ferry will take place in a picturesque fjord northeast of Stavanger, not far from Lysefjorden famous for its Pulpit Rock landmark. The onboard technology will be ground-breaking, but the hydrogen supply chain is also a challenge. Today there are no large-scale or industrial production facilities for liquid hydrogen in Norway.

– Today there are only a few factories in Europe that can supply liquid hydrogen. In the short term our hydrogen supply will come by trucks from the continent. In the longer term we wish to see hydrogen production and liquefaction plants in Norway, as this will open for a larger use of liquid hydrogen onboard other ferries and ship types, Østvik explains. Without a well-functioning supply chain based in Norway, the process of using hydrogen on ships will be slow and may not materialise into its full potential.


Liquid hydrogen carries the most energy

Hydrogen (H2) is produced either from electrolysis from water using electric power or by reforming natural gas. To liquify the hydrogen (LH2) it has to be cooled down to -253 degrees Celsius. Onboard the vessel the liquid hydrogen will be evaporated and used in the fuel cell to generate electricity that will be fed to the onboard battery system. LH2 has a density of nearly four times that of CH2.

On this particular route compressed hydrogen gas would be a good alternative due to the ferries’ low power requirements. With its proven technology from the car and bus industry, compressed hydrogen is more available, cheaper and it is easier to set up a supply chain. Butthis solution would not be transferable to other segments that require more energy, such as more energy-demanding car ferry routes, high-speed passenger ferries, deep-sea or cruise shipping.


The technology needs to be scalable

This potential for transferability is what made the Norwegian Public Roads Administration decide to go for liquid hydrogen

– With liquid hydrogen you can carry more energy onboard than with pressurised hydrogen gas. One of the requirements in the tender was to develop technology scalable to larger vessels. Mainly because of storage requirements systems fuelled with liquid hydrogen are more suitable for vessels with larger energy demands, including larger ferries travelling long distances along the Norwegian coast, Ivan Østvik says.

Shipowner and operator Norled also won the pioneering development contract for the world’s first battery ferry ”MF Ampere”. The vessel entered operation in 2015 on the Lavik-Oppedal route in Norway’s longest fjord, Sognefjorden. Norled also participates in the development of hydrogen-driven high-speed passenger vessels as part of the Pilot-E project ZEFF.