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Marine Science



Orkney Islands Council’s first hydrogen powered ferry – concept design contract awarded. Orkney has abundant renewable energy resources. Reliable wind energy is harvested through wind turbines. At the European Marine Energy Centre tides and waves are harnessed to produce electricity However, Orkney has limited connection to the UK national power grid meaning that all this excess renewable energy cannot be exported. Rather than waste this energy, Orkney has been working on hydrogen technology to store its renewable energy. The stored hydrogen can then be used for generating electricity and powering local transport. Hydrogen fuel produces only water as a by-product making it especially environmentally friendly. The next step will be to employ hydrogen fuel cells on small lifeline ferries which service remote islands.  The first route is expected to be Kirkwall to Shapinsay.

One of the major barriers to the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells is often the large up-front costs. Therefore one of the key objectives of the Hyseas III project (led by a consortium including Orkney Islands Council, CMAL, St Andrew’s University and several European organisations) is to look at how the concept can be made commercially viable. HySeas III aims to show that fuel cells can be successfully integrated with a marine hybrid electric drive system. The fuel cell units to be employed are already being used in hydrogen vans operated by OIC and in over a hundred fuel cell buses in Europe and beyond. They have proven to be reliable and in some cases have delivered over 30,000 operating hours.

A contract has recently been awarded for the concept design of Orkney’s first hydrogen fuelled ferry. The contract has been awarded through the HySeas III project by Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) to Aqualisbraemar LOC Group. CMAL and Aqualisbraemar LOC Group will now work together on the design, which will be for a double ended passenger and car ferry, with capacity for 120 passengers and 16 cars or two trucks.

The project aims to develop, construct and successfully test a full-sized drive train on land. Once proof-of-concept has been established the technology could then be employed in a seagoing vessel. Orkney Islands Council is responsible for the provision of internal ferry services to Orkney’s inner and outer isles. This amounts to nine dedicated Inter-Island ferries operating between Orkney’s mainland and thirteen inner and outer isles. The potential carbon savings are substantial.

Councillor Graham Sinclair is Chair of the Council’s Development and Infrastructure Committee. He said:

“As the maritime industry looks to reduce its carbon footprint and makes moves toward emissions free marine transport, the findings and outcomes of research programmes like HySeas III will play a vital role – and to see the programme take such a step forward is heartening. I am proud of the leading role that our communities are playing in these programmes, which let’s not forget – in the year of COP26 – are attracting worldwide attention through the global fight for climate change.”