RHC recommend on hydrogen fuel propulsion regulation at sea

The Regulatory Horizons Council, an independent committee of experts from a variety of fields, have published their recommendations on interventions that would ‘kick-start wide-ranging discussions on the current regulation of hydrogen fuel in the maritime sector.’

The RHS spoke to stakeholders in the maritime industry in the UK and abroad to identify potential regulatory barriers to the widespread adoption of hydrogen. 

red and blue cargo ship on body of water during daytime

It was found that there is currently a lack of guidance in terms of risk assessment, saying that the absence of a common approach to evaluating risk causes approval delays and redesigns, adding that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency are perceived to take an overly cautious approach to regulation.

It is also felt that the development of port infrastructure lacks direction, with many port operators unincentivised to make the necessary investment and a lack of regulation regarding hydrogen storage hindering those more willing.

Furthermore, common standards are not in place which would enable interoperability of ship and shore systems.

The RHC advise that the Government should respond quickly, that there is ‘a limited window of opportunity to put in place the regulatory environment needed to ensure adoption of hydrogen fuel, and an even narrower window to capitalise on the growth opportunities associated with hydrogen vessel supply chains’

They believe that their recommendations, if implemented, could support the use of hydrogen in the maritime sector by:

  • Increasing the speed of approvals of zero-carbon and novel vessel designs, by appointing class societies as ‘Approved Bodies’ (ABs) for vessel design evaluation
  • Providing clarity to shipbuilders and innovators, through the production of better specialized guidance for the designs of hydrogen-propulsion vessels
  • Accelerating the build rate of hydrogen vessels, by ensuring future spending commitments are made at a scale comparable to international competitors and focus on de-risking hydrogen vessels from a technical and commercial perspective to bring private investment into the market
  • Incentivising strategic planning for investment ahead of need for hydrogen infrastructure at ports, by establishing guidelines for ports to plan appropriately for the required transition to low and no-emission ship propulsion, and invest in the roll-out of the infrastructure
  • Building investor confidence in port owners and shipbuilders to undertake hydrogen infrastructure and vessel construction, through improved governance for onshore hydrogen facilities
  • Ensuring proactive resolution of evolving regulatory issues through the creation of a Centre or Taskforce for Hydrogen Maritime Propulsion

Baroness Vere, the Minister for Aviation, Maritime and Security said: ‘I recognise that understanding the future of the fuels landscape is a crucial next step in our drive towards reaching net zero by 2050.

‘On 10 March 2022, we announced a £206 million funding pot and the creation of the UK Shipping Office for the Reduction of Emissions (UK SHORE) research and development programme. This represents the biggest government investment in the commercial maritime sector and is focused on accelerating the technology necessary to decarbonise our domestic maritime sector. This includes funding research into hydrogen fuels.

‘In parallel, my department has an extensive maritime decarbonisation policy and regulation programme. As part of this, we are considering those interventions which may be necessary to support the transition to net zero by 2050 for the maritime sector – including with regards port infrastructure and fuel supply. Whilst our approach is technology neutral, I believe that hydrogen will play a significant role and this report helps us in that regard. We plan to publish an updated Clean Maritime Plan by the end of this year which will set out a trajectory to 2050.’


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