Rendering of the Zero-V hydrogen-powered research vessel. Photo courtesy of GlostenRendering of the Zero-V hydrogen-powered research vessel. Photo courtesy of Glosten

A new research vessel for Scripps Institution of Oceanography will be powered by fuel cells consuming liquid hydrogen produced with renewable energy. The Zero-V vessel design, developed in collaboration with Glosten and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), has received approval in principle from DNV GL.

The Zero-V vessel has a tank capacity of 11,000 kilograms (24,000 pounds) and is designed to operate at a speed of 10 knots over a 2,400 nautical mile range, with fuel available at four different ports of call along the U.S. West Coast.

Fuel cells can provide low noise operation, which benefits marine life and the integrity of acoustic measurements. The use of hydrogen fuel means that air samples can be taken without contamination from conventional engine emissions. The pure, deionized water generated by the fuel cells can also be captured and used for drinking water for the staff and crew, or for experimental and analytical purposes, reducing the amount of water needed to be carried on board. As fuel cells are electrical devices, they also offer a faster power response than internal combustion engines.

The Zero-V project evolved from earlier SNL work on the SF-BREEZE, a hydrogen-powered passenger ferry designed to operate in the San Francisco Bay. Whereas the ferry requires refueling after 100 miles, the Zero-V needs to go at least 2,400 miles or 15 days before requiring a refuel, providing the ability to travel from San Diego to Hawaii. The solution devised by SNL engineers allows liquid hydrogen suppliers to drive fuel trucks directly to the ship at ports of call, meaning that the Zero-V would require little investment in fueling infrastructure.

A trimaran boat design was selected in order to accommodate storage of heavy hydrogen tanks as well as at least 18 scientists, 11 crew members and three laboratories. This configuration provides sufficient space above deck for the tanks and adequate below-deck space for other science instrumentation and machinery.

The next step is to secure funding to build the Zero-V. Compared to diesel-powered research vessels, the Zero-V has a similar capital cost, but would cost roughly seven percent more to operate and maintain. The development team hopes that building and operating the Zero-V will significantly advance U.S. marine transportation technology.

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