Port of London to operate hydrogen powered survey USV

Written by Nick Blenkey
Unmanned ZEPHR survey vessel

Survey USV has been dubbed ZEPHR - Zero Emissions Ports Hydrogen Refilling Survey VesselZEPHR - Zero Emissions Ports Hydrogen Refilling Survey Vessel [Image: Sea-Kit]

The Port of London is to operate a green-hydrogen fueled, uncrewed, hydrographic survey vessel, dubbed ZEPHR – Zero Emissions Ports Hydrogen Refilling Survey Vessel. Like the eSOV project just announced by Bibby Marine, the innovative survey USV be built with the help of funding from the U.K.’s Zero Emissions Vessels and Infrastructure (ZEVI) competition by USV (uncrewed surface vessel) specialist Sea-Kit International, whose recent deliveries include a USV survey vessel for Connecticut-based ThayerMahan.

The ZEPHR project aims to extend vessel operation for port operators and stakeholders through complete energy transferal, from readily accessible green electricity to 100% green hydrogen production, compression, storage and dispensing.

As part of the project, for the build of land-based infrastructure to produce green hydrogen, Sea-Kit will partner with Marine2o, a renewable energy business with a focus on green hydrogen production infrastructure. Another consortium partner, Marine Zero, will support Marine2o with regulatory compliance and the design and integration of the dispensing facility. The Port of London Authority (PLA), a consortium partner, will host the hydrogen refilling station on the River Thames in London and will subsequently operate the ZEPHR.

The configurable ZEPHR USV platform will have a high resolution multibeam echosounder as its primary payload, with the capability to mount additional sensors such as LiDAR, cameras and environmental monitoring and sampling equipment. The vessel will also be able to launch and recover aerial drones for surveying, surveillance, search and rescue. ZEPHR will use two hydrogen fuel cell systems for redundancy.

The vessel’s design will be reviewed with Lloyd’s Register and the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency to satisfy regulatory and compliance requirements and to obtain approvals for continuous operations. It will be built at Sea-Kit’s recently expanded production facility in Tollesbury, Essex, U.K.

“Our support of this exciting project underlines our commitment to creating a net zero future on the tidal Thames,” said John Dillon-Leetch, PLA’s port hydrographer. “Embracing innovation and new fuel technologies utilized on ZEPHR will enable us to be more sustainable and efficient in the production of the essential hydrographic data and products that we provide to all mariners on the Thames.

“The five year project will also support environmental monitoring, academic and industry research programs as well as feeding into the Maritime Hydrogen Highway program – all key elements of the Thames Vision 2050, supporting the PLA, our partners and stakeholders to deliver on their sustainability goals.”

The Thames is Britain’s busiest inland waterway, handling over five million tonnes of goods and materials and millions of passenger journeys each year. The Thames Estuary is thus well placed to support the development of a hydrogen ecosystem, with significant potential usage demand across several sectors, including ports, marine and river transportation, airports and aviation, construction, distribution and logistics. As custodians of the UK’s largest port, the PLA has set out ambitious emissions reduction targets and is actively undertaking a range of actions to realize these, including the implementation of new technologies.

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