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Transport / ‘Full steam ahead’ for hydrogen vessel trial between Aberdeen and Northern Isles

A PIONEERING project which will see a small automated, hydrogen-powered vessel carry cargo from Aberdeen to Orkney and Shetland is going “full steam ahead” – with the trial expected to hit the water in August 2024.

The project from a consortium led by Acua Ocean – a company developing hydrogen powered, uncrewed vessels – was awarded more than £3.5 million in UK Government funding earlier this year.

The small waterplane twin hull vessel will transport a four to five tonne payload from Aberdeen to the Northern Isles to demonstrate the zero-emission technology in a variety of sea states and weather conditions as well as its endurance, stability and reliability.

Image by Acua Ocean.

The company said the project will show the “benefits of green short-sea shipping” compared to alternatives like flying items by autonomous drone.

It also intends to demonstrate mobile shore-side hydrogen bunkering.

The length of the vessel will be around 13.5 metres, weighing 22 tonnes.

Speaking to Shetland News, Acua Ocean chief operating officer Mike Tinmouth said initial testing of the hydrogen propulsion system is scheduled for July/August in Lowestoft.

“The Harbour Acceptance Test (HAT) and Site Acceptance Test (SAT) are planned for March-June 2024 at Turnchapel Wharf in Plymouth,” he added.

The full vessel demonstration will feature a four-week crossing between Aberdeen and Orkney and Shetland in August and October 2024.

Tinmouth said using an unmanned vessel for a trial is “intrinsically safer” than having people on board.

He added that the company will work with Lloyd’s Register and the Maritime Coastguard Agency on the regulatory approvals.

“The longer term use cases for the vessel are focused around site monitoring, survey and protection of offshore renewables and offshore infrastructure such as wind farms, data cables, pipelines etcetera, as well as marine biodiversity monitoring and protection,” Tinmouth said.

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“In addition to the pilot demonstration which includes the bunkering unit and vessel, we will also be producing an economic and environmental impact assessment on the potential for green shipping corridors between the islands, and exploring use of autonomous vessels for ‘just in time’ deliveries.

“We’re also committed to working with local businesses, academics and communities to full engage them in the project.”

Funding for the scheme comes from the UK Government’s Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition.

Another Shetland related project also secured cash through the fund – a trial of an electric vessel on the Papa Stour ferry route.

The month-long demonstration, said to be the first of its kind in the UK, is due to take place in March 2025 following sea trials and testing.

That project is being led by Coastal Workboats, a company based in Devon and Scotland. Its trial secured more than £6 million in government funding.

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