“Hydrotug 1 Is the World’s First Hydrogen-Powered Tugboat”

By May 25, 2024 7   min read  (1219 words)

May 25, 2024 |

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Port of Antwerp-Bruges climate neutral by 2050

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges is looking to position itself as Europe’s green energy gateway and aims to be climate neutral by 2050. To achieve this, the port authority is now already fully engaged in greening its service fleet. This involves 19 tugs as well as service vessels, and dredgers.

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“Our fleet is a major energy consumer, so it’s imperative that we operate it as efficiently as possible,” says Peter Degroote, Nautical Operations Manager. “That’s why we’ve ordered several more energy efficient vessels. We intend to test these intensively in operation over the next few years, and then use that experience as the basis for tackling the rest of our fleet.”

The port authority has chosen to work with a range of low-emission propulsion systems in parallel. The port has had two hybrid (electric/diesel) enforcement vessels in operation for some time. In late 2023, it also launched the Hydrotug 1, the world’s first hydrogen-powered tugboat. And, in the foreseeable future, the port authority also plans to deploy a hybrid methanol/electric tug.

Hydrotug 1: dual-fuel hydrogen/diesel

Hydrotug 1 is the world’s first hydrogen-powered tugboat, a real scoop. Built by CMB.TECH, the vessel is equipped with two BeHydro dual-fuel engines running on a mix of hydrogen and diesel. While the diesel is needed to ignite the hydrogen, the vessel can also switch completely to diesel if there’s a problem with the hydrogen drive. This additional operational reliability is very important for this kind of vessel.”

“Thanks to the dual-fuel drive, we now know for sure that the engine will keep running even if something goes wrong with the new technology on board. You don’t want to imagine the damage that could be caused if a tug’s propulsion fails unexpectedly when it’s working with a large ocean-going vessel. In fact, for the same reason, traditional diesel tugs have two engines. Either way, the vessel has very low carbon emissions thanks to BeHydro engines. Hydrotug is 30 metres long and has two 2,000 kW engines. There are 54 hydrogen cylinders on board, containing 415 kg of hydrogen.

Diederick Luijten, Vice President Hydrogen Technology at Air Liquide: “This hydrogen-powered tug underlines the Port of Antwerp-Bruges commitment to using pioneering technology to reduce its emissions. After collaborating previously with key players such as CMB.TECH and Future Proof Shipping, Air Liquide is proud to be working with the Port of Antwerp-Bruges to speed up its decarbonisation mission. The project demonstrates the important role hydrogen can play.”

“In the meantime, Hydrotug 1’s crew have put it through quite a few sea trials, and their experiences are positive across the board,” confirms Peter. “As recently as the end of 2023, Hydrotug 1’s skipper said in an interview that he would put off retirement for a few more years if he could continue to sail on this ship.

Enforcement vessels: hybrid electric/diesel

Before this, the Port of Antwerp-Bruges commissioned some hybrid enforcement vessels. These boats can run on electric and switch to diesel when necessary. Because of the optimised aluminium hull design, the boats consume 40% less compared to other similar vessels.

“The operational profile of our enforcement vessels — for what tasks, when, and how long a vessel is used — requires 12-hour shifts, so we have to switch to diesel after a while, because the batteries don’t last that long. The design of this kind of hybrid vessel has to tread a delicate balance: the more batteries, the longer the vessel can run without emissions, but the heavier it becomes. And a heavier vessel emits more CO2 when it switches to diesel.”

Methatug: dual-fuel methanol/diesel

“We’re also working on the Methatug, an existing tug that’s being modified to run on a mix of methanol and diesel. That’s quite a challenge because, as a rule, a ship is built around its engine, so to speak,” says Peter. “And so it’s not easy to just remove the engine from a ship and put it back in afterwards. The Methatug — which should be operational by summer 2024 — comes under ‘Fastwater’, a European subsidy scheme.”.

Regulations and training

“You can’t say we made it easy for ourselves with all this pioneering work,” laughs Dirk Van Vaerenbergh, Fleet & Building Infrastructure Manager at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges. “For example, the regulations on ship propulsion systems like hydrogen/diesel and methanol/diesel are still in their infancy, and so, for the moment, it’s by no means straightforward to bring this kind of ship into service.”

“To use these new drives, we also need to train our people — and there are quite a lot of them, because we’re working around the clock. Navigating with a hybrid hydrogen/diesel drive and maintaining it is very different from what we’re used to with traditional diesel engines.”

“But we’re all for it, because only then can we get enough knowledge and data to find out which drives are best suited to different types of ships from a business point of view.”


Hydrotug 1 tug is refuelled with hydrogen via truck-to-ship bunkering. Air Liquide arrives at a pre-arranged time with a trailer filled with high-pressure hydrogen. The trailer is parked up in a specific zone in the port where the necessary safety measures are in place. The hydrogen is then transferred from the trailer to Hydrotug 1. For hybrid electric/diesel vessels, the port has provided a charging point where these vessels are berthed.

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The multi-fuel approach

“But the story doesn’t end with our own port fleet,” Peter continues. “These days, a lot of ships — including large container ships — are built to be ready for methanol propulsion. And they must, of course, also be able to bunker in our port. Not only that, we suspect that in the longer term it will become apparent that multiple fuels will be used, depending on the ship’s operational profile. That’s why we’re fully committed now to a multi-fuel approach. It’s our intention that both seagoing and inland vessels can come to our port for both traditional and alternative fuels.”

“Antwerp is looking to position itself as Europe’s green energy gateway. And if that requires pioneering work, then we’re happy to take up that challenge. It also fits in with the Port Authority’s strategy to demonstrate that alternative fuels are viable, that there’s an infrastructure for them, and that they can be bunkered.”

“In doing this, we’re also proud that all these developments can happen in Belgium. Not only is the Port of Antwerp-Bruges leading the way, other Belgian companies such as CMB.TECH and ABC Motoren have also made significant contributions.”

Diederick Luijten, Vice President Hydrogen Technology at Air Liquide: “Hydrogen offers a versatile and sustainable solution for decarbonising the maritime sector, both on-board for ship operations and for land-based activities:  bunkering hydrogen or changing hydrogen containers, as well as port equipment such as straddle carriers and heavy trucks. As the largest producer of hydrogen in the region, Air Liquide is leveraging its unique expertise to fully unlock hydrogen’s potential, using its industrial facilities, technologies, and expertise to support the development of hydrogen applications across the maritime ecosystem.”

Source: Air Liquide

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