Studies and data on pollution show that the world’s water reserves and seas one of its main containers of harmful substances. Our mental images of beautifully clear seas are increasingly becoming a faded memory. How should we manage the transition and what tools are needed to get to eco-friendly boats, fishing craft, cruise ships and cargo ships is a question that I was pondering as I read about this summer’s experiment in the Gulf of Policastro, which will be remembered as ‘the first sailing of the zero-emission boat’. A group of local entrepreneurs has taken up the challenge to fight pollution from boats and started to offer eco-friendly sailings. Even Italian Minister Sergio Costa enjoyed an outing on the SeaX1 boat, which uses an AI system called Power Cruise Control, which makes it possible to predict the boat’s autonomy using a variety of variables including wind, intensity of sea currents and sun for its photovoltaic system.
The decarbonization process in marine transportation
I talked to Antonino Aricò director of CNR ITAE (Istituto di Tecnologie Avanzate per l'Energia "Nicola Giordano") about the sea and anti-pollution, who works on projects that aim to progressively decarbonize the naval sector. “We have to consider that shipping is used to transport about three quarters of goods within the European Union and therefore has a major impact on greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. “As far as passenger transport is concerned, around 400 million people pass through European ports every year. And when it comes to the environment, a billion tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere each year by the marine sector, so the impact on global greenhouse gas emissions is about 2.5%. If we don’t change course, the future trend will lead to a 250% increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”
Given all of that, it is obvious how important it is to cut pollution in the world of marine transport through the introduction of zero-emission and silent technologies. Aricò says that hydrogen is one of the stars of this revolution because the excess energy produced from renewable sources can be converted into hydrogen through the electrolysis of water. The European Commission, too, is behind this approach and in its communication of 8 July 2020 said that more than 40 gigawatts of electrolysers will have to be installed by 2030.
Hydrogen and the Teseo project
“Within the NAVTEC District, which the CNR also takes part in, the PON 2007-2013 Teseo Project (High Efficiency Technologies for Energy and Environmental Sustainability On Board) has led to the creation of a prototype of a highly efficient and low-environmental impact hybrid fishing vessel. The Teseo project has involved various types of boats, with the aim of using new hydrogen-based technologies on board.” We are therefore on the road to new applications for hydrogen in sustainable mobility.
The Teseo project used a 250 kilowatt system suitable for different types of boats and is seen as an initial test run in the field. "Today is the day for Zeus, a 25-metre boat developed as part of the TECBIA project coordinated by Fincantieri and supported by the Italian Ministry for Economic Development, alongside the CNR. The TECBIA project includes testing of zero emission technologies, especially hydrogen, with a 120 kilowatt hydrogen powered propulsion system that ensures six hours of sailing in complete autonomy, with zero emissions,” Aricò adds.
For the time being, these are still just successful experiments. The commercial side is not yet there, even though it was included in the European directive. "Italy has already built up significant delays,” continues Aricò. “The aim is to reduce the cost of technologies and production of hydrogen, with the current price of "green" hydrogen from electrolysis at €10-€13 per kilogram, while to be competitive we must get to €2-€3. Lastly, port infrastructure is lacking. Once the projects have been completed, if the right conditions are not in place then these boats cannot continue to be used. The challenge is to compete with other European countries that already have adequate infrastructure to refuel hydrogen systems."
The right path
To understand the importance of this technological revolution, we need only consider that in the Italian National Integrated Plan for Energy and Climate (PNIEC) –finally approved last January– the term HYDROGEN appears 55 times, surpassing photovoltaics (48 times) and wind power (33).
The author: Maria Pia Rossignaud
Journalist and expert on digital media writing, she is one of the twenty-five digital experts of the European Commission Representation in Italy, director of the first Italian digital culture magazine "Media Duemila" and Vice President of the TuttiMedia Observatory.
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