What'sUP! - Future Proof Shipping

Future Proof Shipping wants to make the shipping industry go green with hydrogen

Rotterdam faces major social, economic and ecological challenges. They require a long-term strategy with innovative solutions. We work on this together with front runners in business. In the "What'sUP!"-series we focus on a creative pioneer who or a progressive company that finds solutions to the challenges of the 21st century. In this edition: Future Proof Shipping.

Hydrogen, if generated with green energy, can play an important role in making the maritime sector sustainable, starting with inland waterway ships and coastal vessels. The Rotterdam company Future Proof Shipping wants to have eight ships operating on hydrogen within five years. We spoke with CEO Richard Klatten about this ambition.

“Future Proof Shipping is an initiative of Huib van de Grijspaarde, who comes from a maritime family. In 2016, he began his research in partnership with the Erasmus University to explore what the best method would be to make the shipping industry sustainable. After two years, the conclusion was that hydrogen provides many opportunities, but that the next steps had to go beyond research & development: real-world experience is necessary. With that in mind, Van de Grijspaarde founded Future Proof Shipping in 2018. The use of hydrogen is already a proven method, but not much is happening with it because everyone involved in the market chain are waiting for each other to get started. I was asked to break through this deadlock.”

How do you break through the chicken and the egg story?

“Future Proof Shipping is doing so by serving as a ‘chain integrator’. We provide services at the financial, commercial and technical level, and we bring the parties together. We have high expectations of the parties that have the cargo. They will create the demand from the perspective of their sustainability ambitions, so that ship owners start to understand why change is necessary. In addition to our services that help different parties make the transition to hydrogen, we also want to prove that it can be done by doing so ourselves. This is why we are approaching investors and are almost finished with the purchase of our first 100 meters long inland waterways container ship that we will convert into a ship that will run on hydrogen.  We already have a company that will charter the ship.”

What will the ship look like from a technical perspective?

“We are going to convert this ship that is currently powered by diesel engines into a ship powered by hydrogen. We will work with other specialized technology companies to accomplish this task.
We are developing a modular system comprised of electric motors, hydrogen tanks, a fuel cell system (necessary for converting hydrogen into electricity, power) and a battery system. The hydrogen tanks, the fuel cells and the battery system are separate units that you can remove for maintenance or replacement purposes. Therefore, if improved fuel cells are introduced to the market, you can move to those. Since legal regulations do not yet provide for bunker procedures for hydrogen (fueling, red.), we have opted to replace the hydrogen tanks as a complete unit with a new one as soon as it’s empty.”

Green hydrogen is expensive and there isn’t much of it. How do you deal with that problem?

“That’s right. There is currently not a lot of green hydrogen being produced because there is little demand for it. This keeps the price high. We are creating demand, so that production will increase, and the price can drop. Our ship will use approximately 120,000 kg a year. Therefore, if the shipping industry starts using hydrogen, production will become very interesting. This is why we want to make the connection between investors and banks, manufacturers, shipping companies and parties with cargo. If all these parties are willing to conclude multi-year transportation contracts, that gives you something to work with. To achieve that, everyone must be transparent with their costs and that will take some getting used to. We are going to set an example by closing the chain with one ship. The ship should set sail in early 2021.”

What did you learn during the two years you have been working on this project?

“Innovation all boils down to starting somewhere. Think about the pieces of the puzzle and start with one of those pieces. The second step is that you must look beyond the technological innovation you often start with. There must be demand for your innovation and that requires partnerships. What do the parties in the chain need? The third step, at least in case of the shipping industry: be transparent about your costs. Everyone knows that everyone deserves to make a profit, but they want to know what your price is based on.”

Could the municipality help you in any way?

The Municipality of Rotterdam is very supportive of us. They have included us in the Green Deal for sea and inland shipping, which is part of the Climate Agreement. The municipality has also put us in contact with many parties who are important for us. Lastly, the municipality provides input on the limitations imposed by legal regulations. What we are doing is new and that requires new rules.”