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Sea, Land and Port Smart Integration of a Hydrogen Highway

The Maritime Hydrogen Highway project is a ground-breaking two-year, £2.1 million development programme, looking at the scope to establish a national hydrogen highway network, integrating land, sea and port. The elements making up the programme will together form a comprehensive picture of hydrogen network potential.

The programme is part funded under the Smart Maritime Land Operations Call, a Maritime Research and Innovation UK (MarRI-UK) initiative supported by the Department for Transport (DfT). MarRI-UK is providing £1.3 million towards programme costs; the balance of funding is from the programme partners. 

The partners

Port of London Authority (PLA) is leading in a consortium of eight organisations in the Maritime Hydrogen Highway programme:

A number of other ports, operators and trade associations are programme supporters.

The programme in brief

The six project work packages cover energy diversity research, trialling hydrogen power generation for vessels, establishing the business case for marine transport of hydrogen, ship design and health & safety requirements.

The programme runs from late 2021 to autumn 2024.

The aims of the programme are both to support the development of on clean maritime technology, in line with the Government’s strategic vision for the future of the maritime sector Maritime 2050. 

Data sharing

The programme will provide opportunity for fast-paced, comprehensive development of knowledge, shared through the publication of reports and hosting of events.


The tools, checklists and models will be developed at the end of the programme for wider use by operators, ports, investors and strategic planners in order to develop successful, safe and integrated routes for the adoption of zero emission fuels in UK ports and coastal waters.

In greater detail – the six work packages:

Work package 1

Summary: One of the major challenges for hydrogen to be adopted is achieving production at the right scale to meet demand and with the right type of chemical carrier for the purpose it is being used for. While not innovative in itself, the programme intends to lead the analysis from feasible scenarios to meet the demand challenge and make sure any solution can be scalable, rather than on the basis of building supply in the hope demand will appear.

Work package 1 is made up of two separate activities.

WP1A – Maritime demand distribution

Lead: PLA

Specific sites on the Thames have already been modelled for their capacity, safety and constraints for various fuel types, providing context as to the mix based on a strategic mapping exercise completed by the PLA. For the Hydrogen Highway programme, a case study will assess the scope for Cory to move hydrogen by water into the City of London.  This provide a proxy for movement of hydrogen; data generated will be used in work packages 4 & 6.

WP1B - Land-port-sea integration

Lead: Newcastle Marine Services

Supporting partners: University of Strathclyde, OS Energy, Port of Blyth, Port of Milford Haven, ORE Catapult

Combining the practical experience of port and ship operators with the requirements of autonomous maritime systems will highlight the key interfaces for data transfer and communication between major stakeholders in a proposed national hydrogen highway network. The work package aims to deliver a comprehensive review of the soft- and hardware requirements in a roadmap style framework, helping to assess the current state of readiness and plan future developments.

Work Package 2

While fuel cell technology is generally maturing, to our knowledge, it has not been used in the maritime sector for the provision of power to vessels.  This will be the first time that fuel cell power has been used on the Thames and in the Port of London, and potentially in the UK for maritime operational purposes. The energy demand of a vessel needing instant power is seen as one of the challenges of fuel cells in the time is takes to build up the power outputs, so combining the system with battery storage at a minimal level reduces the risk for operators. The energy usage and the systems response will be mapped and monitored throughout the trial to understand the opportunities or challenges faced by use of such as system for this purpose.

Lead: PLA, harbour fleet operation, with regional ports and port associations.

A fuel cell generator system will be installed at the PLA’s Denton Wharf and used in place of existing diesel generators by both the PLA and tenants, towage operators, Svitzer.  Data on energy transfer and fuel usage, alongside training requirements and lessons learnt will be captured for mapping to wider port applications, reflecting how limitations of the location may be overcome and what may be present in others. The energy and fuel use data will flow into work packages 4 & 6 for further use.  A sub-contractor will support with fuel cell and fuel, as well as air quality monitoring.

Work Package 3

A major innovative aspect of offshore generation of green hydrogen is the design of modular offshore generation platforms. Three main units – production, storage, and bunkering – are designed as add-ons, which can be easily upscaled and fitted to various offshore wind projects and platform types.

Two case studies are designed to look at the most likely variations in platform design.  The first is a retrofit of the required modules to an existing, bottom fixed oil & gas platform in close proximity to existing offshore wind farms with relatively close distance to shore.  The second, a new design of a floating platform that can be used on a wider range of wind farms, located further from shore in deeper waters to accommodate the developments of the UKs floating offshore wind industry in the decades to 2050.  Both designs will be evaluated against the alternative of transporting electricity to shore or connecting large offshore structures to the national grid by means of existing or new pipeline networks.

Lead: University of Strathclyde

Supporting Partners: OS Energy, Newcastle Marine Services Ltd, ORE Catapult

Provide an assessment of the hydrogen generation capabilities for a range of offshore wind farm locations and develop a concept design for modular generation, storage and offloading units for integration into standard offshore platform design. Separate case studies are conducted for retrofitting existing Oil & Gas platform and developments of novel floating offshore wind platforms, assessing the various options for hydrogen storage and transport and provide recommendations on the ideal combinations for key operational scenarios. Larger infrastructure characteristics around the UK will be included in the judgement such as existing structures, pipeline networks and readiness of ports and industrial areas to accommodate large amounts of energy generated offshore.

Work Package 4

As with many new technologies or cargoes, the smaller the supply chain, the higher the cost, limiting the return on investment, or indeed case for investment at all. The model being designed on the basis of information generated in other work packages will help identify ways to facilitate supply at an economical level for businesses to adopt the fuel and provide the service.

Lead: University of Kent & Connected Places catapult

Supporting partners; PLA, Port of Blyth, Port of Milford Haven, UKMPG, BPA, City of London, Cory Group.

Work programme includes an economic & social impact assessment of the benefit of local businesses and services, jobs and employment, as well as the benefit to public health. Using the Thames as a proxy for other inland waterways, ports and harbours in order to create a usable model for the different types of chemical carriage options and modes of vessel (both autonomous and return freight) to provide hydrogen by vessel into the capital and the South East.

Work Package 5

To support a seamless and safe offloading of hydrogen from the offshore platform to Autonomous Network Transport at Sea (ANTS) ships (or from ANTS ships to ports), an automated berthing and mooring system is proposed, which can be easily fitted to the offshore platform, as well as an existing port.  The system relies on hardware development, bridging the critical distance, in the order of tens of metres, between ship and shore, or ship and platform, where currently human intervention through tugs, winches and other manually controlled technologies is provided to safely moor the vessel at its location. In addition to the design of the hardware, the required software and data programme will be developed, and its fully autonomous operation demonstrated in scaled testing in world leading experimental facilities.

Lead: OS Energy Supporting Partners: University of Strathclyde, Newcastle Marine Services Ltd

Through the work a modular, scalable design will be presented for smart, emission-free ANTS ships, along with a soft- and hardware-based technology, allowing seamless operation of autonomous vessels for mooring, berthing and cargo operations in port and at sea.  The scope for autonomous operations will be demonstrated at model scale in state-of-the-art laboratory test.

Further detail:

  • Ship Design – currently there are no ships available on the market which are designed to specifically transport hydrogen as part of a short sea network. The presented concept design of ANTS ships will fill this gap with new design developments, incorporating zero emission technologies, modular design approaches and digital systems from the outset, leading to a proof of concept of the offshore generation and transport of green hydrogen to shore. A review of hydrogen carriers will be conducted and included in the choice of fuel for the vessel itself.
  • Autonomous Ship – an autonomous system, a novel time-optimal path planning and tracking control method based on nonlinear model predictive control (MPC) and spatial reformulation will be proposed to demonstrate advanced features. Specifically, as an advanced predictive controller, the nonlinear MPC optimises the berthing path to a minimum time mathematically at the planning stage and compensates the uncertainty disturbance during the tracking process. Implementing this control system to the ANTS ships will enable a fully autonomous and safe transport of offshore green hydrogen to shore.

Work Package 6

While assessments for safety are not intrinsically innovative, the approach being taken to use the case studies to help create ‘score cards’ or ‘traffic light’ tools for any port, inland waterway operator, terminal operator or local council to use is significantly beneficial to the safe and rapid adoption of clean fuels.  It will increase the potential for the supply to be met partially from sea to land.

Lead: HSE, PLA, OS Energy, MCA, University of Birmingham, Air Products, University of Strathclyde

Using a scenario-based approach for hydrogen to be transported into the Port; its conditions; storage conditions and capacities onboard incoming ships and at the Port; arrangements for ship-to shore transport; arrangements for bunkering. The approach will allow for the identification of hazards and potential safeguards to apply to alternative scenarios.


Programme supporters, who will be key to the work package outputs, but who are not seeking to be funded through the programme include:

  • Cory Group – inland waterway freight provider on the Thames which carries London’s non-recyclable waste out for energy recovery and by products use as road materials. Their operation is used for the case study in WP1A and subsequently in WP4 & 6.
  • City of London Corporation – receiver of the outbound freight services from Cory, with a land municipal refuse, fleet as well as the vessels themselves.
  • Port of Milford Haven – partner port particularly interested in the renewable energy market for future years. They will be able to observe the work and potentially guide the parameters benchmarked in the case studies to make sure any local requirements are considered in the outputs.
  • Port of Blyth has particular experience as a hub for offshore wind construction and base for offshore operators. The port sees the developments towards zero emission and autonomy in the maritime industry as one of the key challenges and will support this project through their expertise in port operations specifically informing developments of autonomous control systems and general input to HSE requirements surrounding large scale operations of hydrogen.
  • UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG), representing nine large port operators around the UK to benchmark the scenarios and assumptions in the project to make it most relevant for application across the UK.
  • British Ports Association (BPA) – represents ports of all types around the UK representing hundreds for marine facilities. Contribution will be to benchmark the scenarios and assumptions in the project to make it most relevant for application across the UK.
  • Svitzer – ship towage company working across international ports, their two largest bases in the UK are in London and Milford Haven. They are keen to learn about decarbonation options given the scale of the task their vessels undertake to keep the ships moving and ports safe. They will be principally working with the PLA on the fuel cell demonstration (WP1B) to assist in the understanding and applicability of alternative power solutions for a marine operational site.
  • Maritime Future Technologies Team (MFT) – non-regulatory part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), facilitating the conversation for regulatory change, by understanding, supporting, and developing the use of these technologies in the maritime industry. They will be involved in WP6 on the creation of guidance and relevant standards regarding the carriage and use of sustainable energy vectors, as in the Hydrogen projects.
  • Air Products – an industrial gas provider with more than 60 years of hydrogen experience, situated at the forefront of hydrogen energy technology development. Air Products will support the efforts of the Hydrogen Highway programme through an advisory role to provide the project with relevant expertise.