The World's First Hydrogen Passenger Ship, Powered by a Mix of Hydrogen and Diesel

The world's first passenger ship powered by hydrogen—an energy source that is expected to see increased use in the field of transportation—made port in Tokyo Bay.

Sailing Event Around Tokyo Bay

The amount of fuel necessary to transport goods or people anywhere differs drastically depending on factors like weight, distance traveled, and more. This also applies to renewable energy. To make the use of hydrogen fuel in ships practical, there will need to be a value chain capable of supplying large, stable amounts of hydrogen, as well as the development of advanced engines. The world's very first hydrogen-powered passenger ship, Hydro BINGO, is facing up to this challenge. In the process of verifying the problems that can arise and the ways in which they can be solved, the Hydro BINGO project is helping the industry move towards the commercial use of hydrogen power.

Hydro BINGO has a total length of 19.4 meters, a total width of 5.4 meters, and a gross tonnage of 19 tons. Photo: JPN H₂YDRO CO., LTD.

In 2021, Hydro BINGO was awarded the "Ship of the Year Award (Small Passenger Ship sector)" by the Japan Society of Naval Architects and Ocean Engineers. The ship is currently used for various events, with plans for it to sail domestically in the future.

In October 2022, Hydro BINGO made port in Tokyo Bay, with a sailing event (sponsor: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the TMG) held for elementary school students and their guardians. In conjunction with the event, a sailing session for media personnel—both Japanese and international—was also held. During the approximately 40-minute cruise through Tokyo Bay, participants were able to tour the interior of the ship, learn about hydrogen-powered vessels, and more.

The ship has a capacity of 80 passengers and two crew members. There are 21 seats. Photo: JPN H₂YDRO CO., LTD.

Nonaka Satoru of the Office of the Governor for Policy Planning, the TMG, says, "We originally called for 120 participants—elementary school students and their guardians—on the TMG website. But we got more than ten times the number of applications that we thought we would. It was so much more than we expected that we had to up the number of passengers in each session and the number of sessions in general. It really showed us how much interest there is in hydrogen energy.

Technology and Infrastructure Both Essential

I myself had the opportunity to board the ship. The interior was spacious and had an open feel, with a window on the ceiling of the first-floor deck that could be opened and closed. When the ship began moving, it was time for commentary from Kambara Jun, the president of Tsuneishi Facilities & Craft Co., Ltd., the company that developed the ship.

There is standing space for 34 people. In the front left of the photo there is a bathroom in a cylinder-shaped structure. Photo: JPN H₂YDRO CO., LTD.

"Diesel engines are powerful, but emit lots of CO2. Hydrogen engines, on the other hand, don't emit any CO2. At this point, though, it's still difficult to create a hydrogen-powered engine with the power to move a ship. So what we did was develop an engine that mixes hydrogen and diesel and burns the mixture as fuel. This engine, called a dual-fuel hydrogen-diesel combustion engine, is powerful enough to allow navigation while also limiting CO2 emissions."

The ship has been designed with safety in mind, with the hydrogen-fuel tank separated and placed away from the passenger seats towards the back of the ship. Because hydrogen burns easily, the system also utilizes double-tubing that would allow gas to be vented outside of the ship in the event of a gas leak. The ship is also equipped with gas detectors, sprinklers, and more. Every precaution has been taken to reduce risk, including an emergency stop button for the engine next to the driver's seat.

By mixing two types of fuel—hydrogen and diesel—and generating power that way, the company was able to develop an engine (and passenger ship) that, at its best, cuts CO2 emissions by 50% in comparison to full-diesel engines. While this is already an incredible achievement for the move towards a hydrogen society, Kambara's goals extend much further out into the future.

"In the future, we want to commercialize a ship powered solely by hydrogen. To do that, we'll need to develop an advanced hydrogen engine, but we'll also need infrastructure to access hydrogen sources, transport and store the hydrogen, and more. With Hydro BINGO, we were able to create the world's first hydrogen-powered passenger ship. But we see this as just the first step in our advancement towards a hydrogen society. Going forward, we want to use events to tell more people about the potential of hydrogen, and use that shared knowledge to advance this project further."

The use of hydrogen power has been considered difficult in the field of transportation, and particularly for marine transport. With this new development, however, it feels more and more possible. Hopes are high for further achievements from Hydro BINGO—the pioneer of this effort—and for shipping companies across the industry.

Interview and writing by Takasuga Tetsu
Translation by Amitt