Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) and the University of Strathclyde have secured a £30,000 grant to fund a six-month research project to explore the technical, operational and commercial viability of using zero-carbon fuels to power ferries.

The funding award is a result of a successful joint bid to the Department for Transport’s clean maritime demonstration competition (CMDC), which was launched in March 2021 to accelerate maritime decarbonisation in the UK.

The project, called Lifecycle Energy Solutions for Clean Scotland/UK Maritime Economy, is a feasibility study that will explore the most effective solutions that will drive down carbon emissions from the maritime sector, but will also support sustainable economic growth and industry competitiveness.

CMAL’s team of ship designers, naval architects and marine engineers will work alongside marine academics and researchers at the University of Strathclyde to conduct a life cycle assessment on the viability of using ammonia, hydrogen, and main grid electricity for ferries.  The team will design robust business scenarios based on 23 ferries on 27 routes on the west coast of Scotland, including highly reliable predictions of the costs and benefits of the proposed alternative fuel sources and a comparison to the use of diesel.

The project outputs will feed into CMAL’s future decarbonisation plan and will contribute to the Scottish Government’s ambition to increase low emission vessels in the ferry fleet by 30%.

John Salton, Fleet Manager and Projects Director at CMAL said:

“Carbon-free fuels are in the early stages of development across the UK maritime sector, but there are various views on the most effective ways for these fuels to be produced, distributed and used onboard for the clean shipping economy.  This project will explore a wide variety of scenarios based on actual ferries and routes in operation today.  We’ll look at environmental impact and maritime safety and regulation, as well as costs, vessel design, fuelling infrastructure and supply chain constraints.

“Essentially, we are aiming to produce a roadmap that will direct future uses and ultimately lead to a carbon-free ferry fleet.  The shipping industry is a significant source of carbon emissions and we must do our bit to explore and create new solutions.  We’re just weeks away from welcoming COP26 to Scotland.  Climate change means we can’t rely on fossil fuels to continue powering ferries into the future and projects like this are vital to inform how we transform the sector.  We need new and proven technologies that are better for the environment, as well as practical, reliable and affordable.”

Dr Byongug Jeong, Lecturer of Marine Engineering at the University of Strathclyde and principal investigator of the project, said:

“There is no doubt about the strong demand for moving towards cleaner marine fuels for the protection of our planet.  To determine the best solutions, all credible scenarios for the upstream and downstream pathways for these fuels will be examined, based on current and future prospected UK energy infrastructure and grids.  This joint project between the university and CMAL will aim to produce robust insight into demystifying the lifecycle benefits and harms of clean marine fuels and making recommendations for the optimal approach for Scotland’s short-sea business.”

Peilin Zhou, Professor of Marine Engineering at the University of Strathclyde said:

“The use of carbon-free fuels, such as hydrogen and ammonia, for shipping are promising solutions for climate control.  However, the sustainability and cost effectiveness of carbon-free fuels need to be investigated from a life cycle point of view.”

CMAL is also a key partner in HySeas III, an EU-funded consortium project with the University of St Andrews and Orkney Council to design Europe’s first sea-going vehicle and passenger ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

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