The goal of the European Green Deal is to achieve net zero emissions in all sectors by 2050 and there is currently a concrete collective motivation for achieving a zero-emission economy. In order to contribute to the decarbonisation process, numerous initiatives have been implemented over the last few years.
The research project TecBIA (Technologies with Low Environmental Impact for the production of energy on naval vessels) by Fincantieri, co-financed by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, aims to validate the sustainable technology of fuel cells for naval applications through the construction of the prototype ship named ZEUS (Zero Emission Ultimate Ship) with hybrid propulsion. Zeus was classified by RINA in October 2022 as the first RINA Classed ship capable to be propelled by Hydrogen.
The aim of the research is to find sustainable and low environmental impact solutions for cruise ships, mega-yachts, ferries and oceanographic research vessels by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulate matter.
About 25 meters long and weighing about 170 tons, ZEUS’s primary objective is that of a floating laboratory to study fuel cells, electrochemical conversion devices, which generate electricity and heat without thermal combustion. The ship is equipped with a hybrid propulsion system consisting of two diesel generators and two electric motors. In addition, there is a 144-kW fuel cell system, powered by about 50 kg of hydrogen contained in metal hydride cylinders, and a lithium battery system. This configuration will allow the ship to sail for approximately eight hours at a speed of 7.5 knots in zero emission mode, using the electricity supplied by the fuel cells, or to sail for approximately another four hours at a speed of four knots in mode zero noise, using batteries.
This project confirms that the use of hydrogen is a possible solution (especially for short sea application) to produce the required propulsion energy with no CO2 emission.
The TecBIA project was attended by many entities: Fincantieri, Isotta Fraschini Motori, Cetena, Seastema, the CNR, the Universities of Genoa, Palermo and Naples, ENR and RINA.
The technologies developed during the project can be applied to different types of marine units, from inland waters units, with relatively low energy requirements, to large cruise ships, supporting the electrical load for the accommodation or the operation of the ship for limited periods at low speed.
The requests for eco-sustainable ships is constantly growing. Sensitivity to the environment and marine protected areas is leading all European shipyards to invest in research in order to be able to build ships with controlled emissions. The use of hybrid technologies, using hydrogen and batteries in combination with diesel engines, is a first step and we assume that further development will be a reality very soon. It is therefore essential to have guidelines and regulations that lead to the achievement, through technological innovation, of cutting-edge fleets with particular attention to safety and environmental issues. Achieving decarbonisation by 2050 is a puzzle to be built by putting all the pieces together: owners, shipbuilders, class societies authorities, technology providers, clean fuel from renewable source producers and so on.