Working Paper

Refueling assessment of a zero-emission container corridor between China and the United States: Could hydrogen replace fossil fuels?

In July 2019, the ICCT hosted an international workshop on zero-emission vessel technology for shipping during which participants identified hydrogen fuel cells as a promising technology. To assess the potential, this study models the energy demand and fuel storage space requirements of container ships servicing a corridor from China to the United States, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, when powered by hydrogen. The hydrogen is stored as a cryogenic liquid and used in a fuel cell that would replace heavy fuel oil in an internal combustion engine, which these ships currently use. The paper also identifies ports within the corridor where hydrogen refueling infrastructure might later be developed.

As shown in the figure below, the authors find that 99% of the voyages made along the corridor in 2015 can be powered by hydrogen with only minor changes to fuel capacity or operations—i.e., by replacing 5% of cargo space with more hydrogen fuel or by adding one additional port of call to refuel. Importantly, a large chunk of the 2015 voyages—43%—can be made without any such changes. Achieving even the minimum ambition of the International Maritime Organization’s initial greenhouse gas strategy will require new technologies and fuels to power ships, and these results show that the bunkering needs of some of the largest ships in the world can be met with hydrogen with only minor changes to operations. Other potential alternative fuels, including ammonia and methanol, carry more energy per unit volume than hydrogen and thus are promising areas for future research, as are other shipping corridors.

Figure 3. Attainment rates of trips, by legs and voyages, along the PRD-SPB corridor when replacing fossil fuels with hydrogen
Alternative fuels Zero-emission vehicles