Using River Power in River Boats Proves the Value of Hydrogen Fuel-Cells

By April 2, 2020 4   min read  (623 words)

April 2, 2020 |

Sogestran push boat Main

The EU funded FLAGSHIPS project is supporting the construction of a hydrogen fuel-powered barge push boat in the French city of Lyon, one that will get its clean hydrogen from the Rhone’s hydroelectric power in a truly virtuous circle.

Expertise from several European countries is working together to create one of the most visible and demonstratable commercial hydrogen-fuel cell marine solutions in South France.

The Rhone is more than just one of Europe’s great rivers flowing from the glaciers of Switzerland to the French coastline. It is also one of France’s major trade arteries and a significant source of renewable electricity for the country.

On the 276-km stretch between the port of Marseille and Lyon (these cities represent two of the three biggest cities in France), 11 hydroelectric power stations generate clean electricity off the river’s natural power.

There is also a regular convoy of barges being pushed up and down the river between these two great cities – imported cargo upstream and cargo for export downstream. When these barges reach Lyon they are dropped off, and the river tugs pick up another and head off south to the coast.

It is the operations in Lyon where these barges get moved between convoy positions and loading cranes that a unique new hydrogen fuel-cell powered push-boat will operate soon.

The EU funded FLAGSHIPS project has two main parts to it. One is the creation of the hydrogen fuel cell and power system for a Norwegian public ferry service, the other is for this powerful push boat that will operate in Lyon shuttling empty and loaded barges from the loading cranes to the standby area and other highly visible roles in the French city.

The tug design is for two 200 kW fuel cells – the Norwegian ferry will have three of the same – connected to a mobile compressed-hydrogen fuel tank. This fuel tank can be removed and refilled with green hydrogen which will be created at an electrolysis plant using power from the Rhône hydroelectric dams.

Victor Laravoire, Newbuilding Project Manager at transport group Sogestran, which owns subsidiary Compagnie Fluviale De Transport, a member of the FLAGSHIPS project and future owner of the hydrogen push boat. He points to the virtuous circle of this project. “The great river’s water flow will create the energy, which will create the hydrogen which then is used on a barge on the river. On the barge, the water formed in the fuel cell reaction to create power is then returned to the river as the bi-product from the fuel cell.”

The push-boat design will be for a mobile fuel tank with a 300 kg compressed hydrogen capacity, enough to power the pusher tug for two weeks says Laravoire. When it is empty it will be replaced by a second tank, and the first one taken by road to the refilling station located just beside the dock area to be refilled with compressed hydrogen.

As this pusher-tug will operate in the city center of Lyon – one of its other proposed roles will be for the municipal authorities dealing with special garbage barges on the city’s riverside – safety has to be a priority.

“We are working closely with the French administration and with class as there are no rules on how to put hydrogen on these vessels,” says Laravoire. “We want to be sure we do not miss anything. We are helping build the next set of safety rules for the use of hydrogen-powered fuel cells.”

With the design of the push tug quite well advanced, CFT has tenders out for a yard to build the vessel and have delivery in mid-2021.


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