ENR, together with established industrial and research partners such as FINCANTIERI, RINA and, CETENA, has been focusing on responding to the demand for a clean and safe sea through the design and the development of innovative and sustainable multipurpose boats that are environmentally friendly. In April 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted an ambitious strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 and CH4) in maritime transport. This strategy aims to reduce the total emissions of CO2 and CH4 by 2050. In June 2020, European countries that face the Mediterranean Sea signed a memorandum of understanding to promote the self-production of energy using renewable sources. In the Mediterranean Sea, there are currently over 60,000 fishing boats, 75% of which are more than twenty-five years old and contribute significantly to the pollution of our oceans. While the focus is on the Mediterranean basin, the effort has an international dimension that involves other oceans such as the Indian Ocean, a water basin extremely important for the IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) countries

In the near future, in order to fulfill the requirement of reducing dangerous emissions and in order to guarantee clean and safe oceans, hydrogen has the potential to become the energy vector of choice in the maritime and fishing industries. While hydrogen in free form is not present in nature, it can be produced through a wide range of chemical and physical processes. There are different types of hydrogen: black hydrogen is extracted from the water using power produced by coal or oil power plants; grey hydrogen is produced by natural gas using the steam reforming process; blue hydrogen is also produced by using the steam reforming process, but the CO2 produced is stored rather than emitted in the air; purple hydrogen is extracted from water using power produced by nuclear power plants; green hydrogen is extracted from water using power produced by hydroelectric, solar or wind energy sources. The last two types of hydrogen do not produce any CO2.

According to a Snam-Mckinsey study, hydrogen could provide nearly a quarter of national energy demand by 2050. This growth could occur thanks to the progressive and now consolidated decrease in the cost of producing renewable solar and wind electricity and a simultaneous reduction in the cost of electrolyzers, determined by the large-scale production of green hydrogen. It is expected that the hydrogen market will grow further with the decrease in the cost of production which becomes significantly lower when the hydrogen is produced in Africa, where energy comes from renewable sources (e.g., photovoltaics). Hydrogen, like all gases, is easy to transport and store at a low cost and can be transported through existing infrastructures. In Italy, there is over 250,000 km of existing gas pipelines ready for the distribution of hydrogen.

In 2020, the European hydrogen strategy recommended the following steps: 1) between 2020 and 2024, the installation of at least 6 GW of electrolyzers for renewable hydrogen in the EU and the production of up to one million tons of renewable hydrogen; 2) between 2025 and 2030,  hydrogen will have to fully enter our integrated energy system, with at least 40 GW of electrolyzers for renewable hydrogen and the production of up to ten million tons of renewable hydrogen in the EU; 3) between 2030 and 2050, technologies based on renewable hydrogen should reach maturity and find applications on a large scale in all sectors that are difficult to decarbonize.

The TecBIA (Low Environmental Impact Technologies for the Production of Energy on Ships) project led by FINCANTIERI, together with ENR, RINA, and CETENA, in partnership with ISOTTA FRASCHINI MOTORI, aims to build a multipurpose and hybrid propulsion naval prototype, based on a fuel cell system, named ZEUS (Zero Emission Ultimate Ship). The goals of the ZEUS prototype are to demonstrate: 1) the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; 2) the improvement of eco-compatibility cruise ships, mega-yachts, ferries, oceanographic research ships both in terms of environmental protection and passenger comfort by reducing noise and vibrations; 3) the increase of safety onboard through redundancy of generative systems. The ZEUS prototype is totally dedicated to testing hydrogen as vector energy fuel for marine boats, assessing how to store hydrogen in metal hydrides, and evaluating the efficiency of lithium batteries. The zero-emissions electricity generation system consists of a hybrid system of fuel cell arrays and an electric battery storage system, integrated onboard the boat for the generation of electrical power both for the auxiliary systems and for propulsion. The ZEUS prototype has two diesel engines and two electric motors for the purpose of powering propulsion and essential navigation services.

The main activity of ENR (The National Institution of Italy for Standardization Research and Promotion), in the TecBIA project, focuses on proposing, in accordance with internationally consolidated procedures, a set of regulations for the use of hydrogen as a fuel onboard ships. There are currently no internationally recognized regulations for the use of hydrogen as a fuel onboard ships. At this time, the regulations relating to the use of hydrogen are insufficient, and consequently, the existing regulations for combustible gases with a density lower than that of air, typically natural gas (e.g., IGF Code), are used as a reference. ENR is planning to present the TecBIA project and the ZEUS prototype at the EXPO 2020 Dubai.

The article is edited by: Prof. Ing. Francesco Beltrame (Full Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Genoa and President of ENR – National Research and Promotion for Standardization); Prof. Ing. Gianluca De Leo (Professor at the College of Allied Health Sciences, Augusta University and member of the Technical-Scientific Committee of ENR – National Institute for Research and Promotion for Standardization); Ing. Alessia Sortino (ENR – National Research and Promotion for Standardization)