SHAPE UK and the logistics of clean fuel

What are the barriers to implementing clean fuel to the maritime industry and what can the SHAPE UK project achieve?

Transport 23 Dec 2021 by Jane Edwards

The hydrogen circular economy model is evolving all the time and digital technologies are accelerating the efficiency of it. We spoke with Graeme Wright about the hydrogen economy and its benefits. A key theme from that conversation was the need to just start building ecosystems today. So how are people right now beginning to put the theory into practice? 

SHAPE UK is a project funded by Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency, designed to develop and demonstrate a green hydrogen energy system as well as to identify some of the logistical barriers that the implementation of green hydrogen faces. The project aims to support Portsmouth International Port’s transition into a zero-emissions port by 2050. 

Among the delivery partners for the SHAPE UK project are IOTICS and Cox. Head of R&D at Cox Powertrain, James Eatwell explained why Cox were keen to get involved with the project: “The marine sector as a whole is in an interesting position going forward,” he said. “It’s kind of sat on its laurels for a while, saying, ‘our C02 emissions per tonne are lower than anybody else’s’ and absolutely, they’re right.” However, James went on to point out that if you ignore the units per tonne and just look at the units, the sector is still producing a high volume of carbon emissions. 

Cox decided to take the step to work on such a project because of “our own sense of social responsibility to be doing the right thing,” James explained. There’s an expectation that “the world will not tolerate diesel going into the future,” he said. 

The SHAPE UK project aims to be a proof of concept on the possibility of net zero and low carbon ports. One of the steps in achieving such is identifying the barriers that stand in the way of implementing hydrogen as a clean fuel source for marine.

“From a project perspective, I think some of the key barriers, ironically, are just being able to get hydrogen fuel to a point where we can use it,” said James. 

“There are challenges from our side but it’s not challenges that are anything above and beyond just an engineering development exercise really. As engineers, we look at a problem and we solve the problem,” he said. 

In order to overcome a lot of the logistical barriers to implementing hydrogen, digital twins and data sharing can inform decisions and optimise operations. Head of Customer Success at IOTICS, Sophie Peachey, explained what that might look like: “We can start to streamline the whole operation by creating ecosystems of twins that can talk to one another,” she said. “Boat says to shore, “I’m coming in, I’ve got these refuelling needs.” Shore says to the boat, “Come to berth two, we’ve got what you need, you need to be out of here in 45 minutes.” You’ve got that conversation going on.” Peachey went on to explain that the ecosystem of Digital Twins being created for the project are not simply supporting one use  case but are designed to support business case development, refuelling operations and logistics, and an environmental monitoring framework. The business case will be a model that can be applied to other ports, scaling to meet need and requirements, as they evolve. 

James explained that creating something that allows a more widespread use of hydrogen in the Maritime industry was what SHAPE UK is about.  “In the very simplest terms, it’s a feasibility demonstration,” he said. “Even if the system itself isn’t capable of the hydrogen that’s being generated and electrolysed being the fuel we burn on our boat. Even if it’s a case of those individual elements working on their own it still demonstrates a capability to others.” 

Aside from the demonstration aspect of the project, James also emphasised the wider educational aspect above and beyond clean fuel adoption: “I came into this from a background of being a mechanical engineer, so I view the world from mechanical engineering eyes,” he said. “But actually there’s a degree of education of people as to what concepts like the digital twin can actually do for them.” 

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