M/V Hydrogen One will be IMO 2030 compliant, meet the USCG’s Subchapter M requirements, and have an operational range of 550 miles before refueling. Illustration credit: Elliott Bay Design Group

World’s First Methanol-Fueled Towboat Planned for Launch in 2023

Mike Schuler
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November 29, 2021

Maritime Partners in cooperation with Elliott Bay Design Group, e1 Marine and ABB have announced plans for the world’s first methanol-fueled towboat set for launch 2023.

Known as Hydrogen One, the vessel will be IMO 2030-compliant and meet all requirements of the US Coast Guard’s Subchapter M regulations. The design comes from Elliott Bay Design Group using proven technology. ABB will supply the electrical power distribution and automation to e1 Marine’s methanol-to-hydrogen fuel cell battery.

Decarbonizing the towboat sector poses substantial challenges, particularly due to towboats’ inherent size, space, and weight limitations. Batteries are only suitable if you operate on fixed routes and can recharge daily, while limited storage capacity restricts the use of pressurized or cryogenically stored gases as fuels. There are also very few dockside facilities to load such marine fuels, which severely constrains a vessel’s range and functionality.

However, because methanol is a common towboat cargo and available in 88 of the world’s top 100 ports, this availability will enable the vessel to refuel safely almost anywhere without the need for diversions. The M/V Hydrogen One’s use of e1 Marine’s reformer technology will generate hydrogen from methanol on-demand, which also makes it considerably safer than transferring and storing hydrogen directly, and the ship’s crew will require minimal additional training to use the technology.

“Converting methanol to hydrogen reduces the CO2 output and our reformer technology eliminates the complexities of direct fueling and storage of gas marine fuels,” said Robert Schluter, Managing Director at e1 Marine. “By producing hydrogen at the point of consumption from a mixture of methanol and water, e1 Marine’s system enables the safe, efficient, and economic use of hydrogen as a marine fuel. The technology is ideal for anything that requires continuous power over extended periods, including work boats and medium-range passenger vessels, or to provide backup power in ports and harbors.”

Hydrogen One is expected to be able to perform at standard operational speeds for up to 550 miles before needing to refuel.

“The US towboat market is one of the most traditional in the world, so it’s important to recognize what this represents: the first step in a shift from diesel electric to methanol electric, and a major advancement towards zero emissions,” said Dave Lee at ABB Marine & Ports. “Governed by ABB’s power management and distribution technology, the system consumes methanol fuel on-demand. This philosophy is much more efficient than a traditional towboat, where you need both main engines as well as a generator online at all times. Through this design and our technology we’re enabling not only huge operational and cost efficiencies, but making the most environmentally friendly mode of transport even more sustainable.”

As planned, the Hydrogen One will join Maritime Partners’ fleet and become available for charter in 2023 to meet the pressing demand for sustainable towboat operations.

Austin Sperry, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Maritime Partners commented, “Shipowners have been understandably reluctant to commit to low carbon fuels until the infrastructure is available to refuel their vessels. The M/V Hydrogen One solves that problem by using methanol, which is safe and readily available worldwide. When the M/V Hydrogen One joins our fleet of 1,600 vessels, it will not only provide excellent emissions reduction capabilities but highly functional, reliable, and cost-effective operations.”

Mike Complita, Principal and Vice President of Strategic Expansion at Elliott Bay Design Group, says the Hydrogen One will serve as a model for what is likely to be the only practical and commercially available technology that will enable smaller vessels to run for multiple days on a single fuel load and without the need for dedicated refueling facilities.

“Our naval architects have optimized the balance between reformers, fuel cells and batteries to maximize range and power while minimizing operational costs,” said Complita. “This design and the technologies it uses can be easily scaled to suit any vessel with a similar need to operate on variable routes with multiple-day transit times, and further enhances Elliott Bay Design Group’s market-leading expertise in this growing sector.”

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