As 2020 draws to a close there are plans afoot in both locations to learn from green energy research and to develop as a consequence. The aim is to address the carbon footprint of the vessels and explore opportunities around hydrogen fuel cells.
Michael Cecil, Rathlin Development and Community Association Chairman, is both excited and realistic about the plans, saying, “We aim to explore all opportunities to reduce the Islands carbon footprint, taking each element as close to zero as possible. Retrofitting the current fast ferry with hydrogen tanks, fuels cells and electric drives may well be possible but questions remain unanswered for the operator. These include running costs as compared to traditional diesel, guarantees of hydrogen supply and reliability of relatively new technology. A consortium of local businesses have secured funding to scope out options around ferry transport to and from the Island and hope to go to tender for a feasibility in the next few weeks. “
Renewable and hydrogen options are being explored in a belief that this is the direction to go in for the next decade and onwards. Cecil is aware that the island offers the perfect opportunity for stakeholders with a maritime interest arguing, “Rathlin and its ferries are very much on the radar of Artemis Technologies in Belfast. Artemis has won a £33 million UK Government innovation grant to develop zero emissions ferries in the city that will revolutionize the future of maritime transport. With further investment from consortium partners, the total project investment will reach close to £60 million over the next four years, creating an initial 125 research and development jobs, and leading to more than 1,000 in the region over the next 10 years.”
The green direction being taken hopes to achieve the total elimination of fossil fuel usage on Rathlin. The government is giving a lead too with Diane Dodds, the Northern Ireland Economy Minister saying in September 2020, “I see great potential for offshore wind and marine renewables. Not just in bringing forward projects that deliver renewable generation for Northern Ireland but in local supply chain opportunities for projects that will be delivered in UK and Irish waters.”
Cecil states, “Supply and security of supply is critical to the success of the ferry service. Studies will investigate expected demand and in turn explore how much hydrogen can be produced and retailed locally. With the correct government support schemes linking green hydrogen to transport Rathlin may well be able to satisfy any expected demand.”
Low emission vehicles will now set an example, building on anexisting environmental trend. The greater emissions question is always part of the wider green discussion. Michael continues: “A recent Queens University study carried out by a final year School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering student highlighted fossil fuel emissions from our ferries as the number one contributor to the Islands carbon footprint.
“The average annual emissions for the island are 2,057 tCO2e (Tonnes of CO2 equivalent) with the two diesel powered ferries responsible for over 800 tCO2e, kerosene.
The ferry service for the six-mile journey from the harbor takes you directly to the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland. You can visit for whatever length of time suits, a few hours, a few days or go there to live and become an islander. UTV news recently featured the Stobart family from Cambridge in England who relocated to live on Rathlin. And according to local estate agents there is a demand from people who now want to work remotely. The island offers its beach, walking trails, play park, gift shops, B&Bs, a bus tour, a lighthouse tour, seabirds and great views.
Meanwhile in Kerry the Valentia Island car ferry runs a continuous shuttle service from Easter to early October. The roll on roll off ferry takes approximately 10 minutes from Reenard Point to Knightstown. Colum O’Connell, Chairman of the Valentia Energy Group is aware of the amount of hydrogen that would be needed to run the ferry saying, “Though the ferry runs for six months of the year, it’s operated for on average 12 hours each day. It is estimated that 60,000 to 80,000kgs of hydrogen would be required to run an equivalent hydrogen powered vehicle. Our ferry is more than 50 years old. Though not measured we doubt emissions were at the centre of the design thinking of the engine back then. Based on its current consumption, the ferry has a carbon footprint of 160,000kgs of carbon each year.”
Looking now to the next decade O’Connell is very aware of the green direction the world is headed, saying, “We are at an amazing time of innovation when it comes to low emission vehicles. Battery electric vehicles are proving to be more viable for road cars. However, the marine sector up until now has proven a challenge, hydrogen has demonstrated its ability to address these challenges and deliver zero emission solutions. We have seen that green hydrogen can be produced from any renewable source and in theory shore based wind power could be successfully utilized. However with the advent of floating offshore wind technology, and given our exposure to the Atlantic elements, we believe this could be a more scalable option.”
There is the debate of whether the hydrogen to power the ferries could be generated from onshore island wind power. Cecil knows the potential saying, “As mentioned previously there is a desire on Rathlin to take responsibility for the energy we consume. Generating that energy on the island with renewables makes sense and leads to a greater understanding of the impact of energy on the world around us as well as the need to reduce wastage. Income and employment from generation and supply further strengthens the Island community and its pride in all it does. “