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Only water in the "exhaust pipe" on Gotland Horizon

21 December 2021

A large-scale Gotland ferry that runs on hydrogen as early as 2030? When Björn Samuelsson first thought about the concept, he quickly condemned it. Now he is leading the project that will make it possible.

It is only about a year ago that Björn Samuelsson, researcher in quality technology at Uppsala University, Campus Gotland and Destination Gotland's then CEO, Christer Bruzelius, discussed possible paths towards fossil-free Gotland ferries. Hydrogen, which all the industry then suddenly had started talking about, came up of course.

“Our first reaction was; "No, it's not possible, the ship is too big and the distance too long. Forget that.”

But maybe? They decided to go home and calculate separately. Both came to the same result: It is possible!

“Since then, we have worked intensively to produce data and and come to the conclusion that the concept is worth moving forward with.”

What about other techniques? Björn Samuelsson believes that the future requires a palette of different alternatives.

“I think that battery operation is preferable where the distances are smaller. For example, I think the sheep ferry would be ideal to electrify, maybe it also works with Stena's Denmark traffic. But somewhere there is the limit.”

He is hesitant about biofuels, even though this would have been the simplest solution for the Gotland traffic – it would not even been necessary to change the existing vessels engines.

- The availability of LBG is limited and is not a reasonable long-term alternative. Gotlandsbolaget sees LNG as a step on the way to a better solution.

What then remains are electric fuels - fuels produced using hydrogen. The problem is that today 96-97 percent of all hydrogen is produced with the help of fossil fuels. But it can also be made green. Björn Samuelsson is now leading a research project that has received support from the Swedish Energy Agency's shipping program to develop and evaluate system solutions for using hydrogen in Gotland's ferry traffic. The entire supply chain from electricity production to propellers will be studied.

The big challenge with hydrogen is its volume. So why not make ammonia or methanol from green hydrogen?

- An additional process step costs energy. Ammonia is also an extremely toxic substance and the tank would be an excellent target for terrorists.

- The advantage of Ammonia and Methanol is that we can create liquids that are easier to handle, but they have an energy content that is a fraction of what hydrogen gas has per unit weight. The problem is that hydrogen, which is our lightest molecule, takes up so much space. On large ships it can be solved, but for long transports one must consider whether it is possible or whether it must be converted to liquid form.

Björn Samuelsson and his seven research colleagues in the project will find out which alternative is best to use on the concept vessel Gotland Horizon, which will be in use by 2030. No one knows whether the hydrogen gas will be produced on Gotland or on the mainland. Maybe there is not even enough green hydrogen in 2030.

- It is possible that we will be forced to run on gray hydrogen at first. The important thing is that we change and get started with the use of hydrogen. The capacity can be expanded gradually.

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