Splash Extra

Japan eyes more liquefied hydrogen carriers

Shipping has a new trading sector, LH2

Shipping’s newest sector – liquefied hydrogen (LH2) – is now trading with Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) looking at building more ships to carry this ultra-chilled substance.

The world’s first LH2 carrier, the Suiso Frontier, built by KHI, started operations officially this month, having been on trials throughout 2020. Suiso is the Japanese for hydrogen.

The LH2 cargo is cooled to –253°C; at this temperature, hydrogen is at atmospheric pressure and occupies just 1/800 of its original vapour volume. Suiso Frontier has one, 1,250 cu m vacuum-insulated, Type C storage tank with KHI now working on creating larger designs.

The ship arrived fully laden in Japan from Australia on January 14 this year, signalling the beginning of the global hydrogen economy. The ship headed to the Kobe LH2 Terminal, the world’s first liquefied hydrogen receiving terminal. Suiso is the Japanese for hydrogen.

The hydrogen was produced by a prototype brown coal gasification facility at Port of Hastings in Victoria, South Australia and is part of the so-called Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain, an experiment to see whether Japan can establish a durable supply of liquid hydrogen from Australian lignite, to be burned to generate electricity. The project’s pilot phase, partially funded by Japanese and Australian authorities, has received investment of around $390m.

The first cargo was shipped 9,000 km to a site on an artificial island near Kobe which has become the pilot terminus for the project, featuring a 19 m high spherical tank used to store domestically produced liquid hydrogen.

Projects like Suiso Frontier will act as a prototype to establish the feasibility of bulk liquefied hydrogen shipping by sea

If the tests are successful by 2022, the project will be extended and will enter a commercial phase after 2030. A new terminus in Japan will then be built, along with larger ships.

KHI officials in Tokyo told Splash Extra that the company was now working on creating larger capacity designs, with further newbuilds anticipated next year once the Suiso Frontier has had 12 months of operations behind it.

ClassNK, which classed the Susio Frontier, is now updating its gas shipping guidelines based on experience and knowledge acquired through the design and construction of the landmark 116 m long vessel.

KHI may face familiar competition from neighbouring South Korea. In November an approval in principle was granted for a 20,000 cu m LH2 carrier developed by South Korea’s Hyundai Mipo Dockyard and shipping firm Hyundai Glovis. This ship design has eight times the capacity of Suiso Frontier.

Under its national hydrogen strategy, Japan aims to procure 300,000 tonnes a year of hydrogen, amounting to 1 GW of power generation capacity.

Mark Williams, who heads up UK-based consultancy Shipping Strategy, told Splash Extra: “Doubtless Kawasaki will be building more for its Australia project.” When pressed, Williams forecast the LH2 global fleet could hit 50 ships by 2030 with nearly all of them delivering after 2026.

“An LH2 shipping market is pretty much a dead certainty. That may be a consolation to shipowners wondering what will become of them if and when we pass peak demand for coal, then oil, then natural gas,” Williams suggested.

Aditya Aggarwal, director of global gas solutions at ABS, a class society, said that due to scalability and other technical challenges for transporting hydrogen by sea, the world is still a long way from making it the cornerstone of the global economy.

“Projects like Suiso Frontier will act as a prototype to establish the feasibility of bulk liquefied hydrogen shipping by sea. Classification societies like ABS have a vital role to play in establishing the regulatory framework for the safe carriage of liquefied hydrogen in bulk to support the global demand,” Aggarwal said.

Charles Haskell, the programme manager at Lloyd’s Register’s Maritime Decarbonisation Hub, commented: “During the energy transition, we shall see early industry movers turning to hydrogen, and we may see an increasing demand for liquid hydrogen carriers as this may be more cost effective in certain applications.”

Beyond the liquefied hydrogen ship designs, there’s also compressed hydrogen ship designs making headlines lately.

Australia’s Global Energy Ventures’s (GEV) C-H2 ship project was unveiled in October last year, designed to carry up to 2,000 tonnes of compressed hydrogen. The containment system (pictured right) includes ambient temperature hydrogen at a target pressure of 3,600 psi or 250 bar. GEV has this month signed a memorandum of understanding with Pacific Hydro’s Ord Hydrogen Project to work on hydrogen shipping solutions out of Western Australia.

Martin Carolan, GEV’s executive director, told Splash Extra: “We think a C-H2 carrier can be on the water by 2026-2027 in line with the expected scale up of hydrogen projects here in Australia for export.”

In other Japanese hydrogen developments, the northern prefecture of Fukushima now houses the world’s biggest renewable energy-powered hydrogen plant, with 10 MW of capacity. The project was completed in March last year.

Chiyoda Corp, meanwhile, succeeded in a pilot project in June to ship hydrogen in a chemical form, methylcyclohexane, from Brunei to Japan as fuel for power generation.

Tore Longva, DNV GL’s lead author of its Maritime Forecast to 2050, told Splash Extra: “We expect hydrogen to play an integral role as a building block in the production of many carbon-neutral fuels – such as ammonia and electro-fuels – with some ship segments using it as a direct fuel source. As such, the production and distribution of hydrogen will become important in the future.”

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