The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) has today approved NOK 219 million (EUR 21.73m) in Norwegian state aid for the purchase of two zero-emission hydrogen vessels being developed under the Topeka Nattruten project.
The project is led by Wilhelmsen, a maritime company, and aims to become an important milestone in the transition to a more environmentally friendly maritime sector.
The aid is granted by Enova, a state enterprise tasked with promoting climate-friendly energy consumption and production, through its Eco-Inn scheme. The Eco-Inn scheme, approved by ESA in 2016, was launched to protect the environment by promoting investments in eco-innovation. However, since the support for the Topeka Nattruten project exceeds the maximum aid allowed for single projects under the Eco-Inn scheme, it needs to be notified to ESA.
The two Topeka vessels will be operational on Norway’s west coast in 2024 for the transport of cargo and liquid hydrogen (LH2) fuel. The vessels will be powered by a combination of a 1 000 kWh battery and specialised hydrogen fuel cells, which means that the vessel will not emit greenhouse gases.
There are several environmental benefits associated with the project. The vessels will be transporting goods without emitting CO2, and will contribute to the decarbonisation of the maritime sector. This transport will also help reduce emissions from road traffic by taking over the cargo of road trucks, which contributes to EEA goals on progress towards climate neutrality by reducing emissions in the transport sector, in line with the European Green Deal.
The Topeka vessels, planned to start operations in 2024, will also distribute LH2 to storage hubs along the Norwegian coast, contributing to the diffusion of LH2 as a ready-to-use fuel. Norwegian authorities foresee that the realisation of this project will pave the way for an emission-free maritime sector.
ESA has today concluded that the aid is in line with Article 61(3)(c) of the EEA Agreement. The aid was assessed under ESA’s Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection and Energy 2014-2020.
The aid will be provided as a direct grant to Topeka Nattruten, a subsidiary of Wilhelmsen, for the acquisition of the vessels. The aid will be disbursed during the period 2021-2024. A further EUR 8m (NOK 80m) has been made available to one of the vessels being developed under the project from Horizon 2020, the European Union’s funding programme for research and innovation.