Professor Richard Cochrane

Professor Richard Cochrane said hydrogen is useful when longer runtime is needed

An independent centre for the testing and demonstration of marine hydrogen propulsion systems in the southwest of the UK launched on Wednesday (April 26).

Dubbed the Hydrogen Boat Centre, a joint project between Pure Energy Professionals (PEP) and the University of Exeter, the facility aimed at accelerating the transition to clean hydrogen propulsion in boats offers a testing rig for a variety of components or complete systems.

The rig sees a hydrogen fuel cell and battery system propel one motor in the set-up, while a second motor on a dynamometer provides a resistive load to simulate the resistance a vessel’s propellor would meet in the water.

One key aspect of the centre is that it can offer virtual performance testing, against both theoretical and real-world routes.

Highlighting the potential for virtual simulation in integrating new systems, PEP’s James Davison said: “The virtual simulation process gives you the opportunity to fine tune and optimise systems before you have to invest in physical hardware, giving you the confidence that what you’re doing is actually achievable.

“It also allows direct comparisons of fuel consumption and system efficiency between internal combustion engine boats and a hydrogen system with directly equivalent performance.”

Andy Cheadle, Project Manager at Georg UK, the company which supplied the test motors for the system, explained: “You can either simulate imaginary journeys or take data from existing journeys, which means if you’ve got existing data from boats using standard diesel or petrol engines, and then run the same journey on the rig, you can see how the battery and hydrogen fuel system performs.”

Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the centre, set up on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, is hoped to provide knowledge for system design, integration, regulations and economics for small commercial vessels and leisure craft.

Richard Cochrane, Professor of Renewable Energy at the University of Exeter and Chief Innovation Officer at RheEnergise, said: “We hope to have tested different fuel cells, try different technology, and to get the system right for other boats.

“We’re not proposing this is the solution to everything, but fuel cells are at least twice as energy efficient as internal combustion engines, so hydrogen comes in when we need longer runtime, especially if it’s out for a few hours.”

James Davison, Project Lead at PEP, said the leisure market could be huge early mover in the hydrogen-powered vessel space, and that the new centre could accelerate that transition.

“The rig will allow for tests to happen that are vessel specific with a range of boat builders and equipment manufacturers,” said Davison.

“At the same time, we can work with those technology providers to help them to marinise equipment and take hold of those opportunities.”

Reporting by Charlie Currie and Edward Laity from H2 View