The Promises and Challenges for Hydrogen in the Yachting Industry

Fuel Cell Technology

In the yachting industry, the spotlight is turning towards alternative fuels. We decided it was time to discuss the potential of hydrogen as a fuel in yachting, exploring its benefits, challenges, and the path it paves towards the future.

Some yacht builders are ahead of others with concepts and designs such as Acionna from British yacht designer Andy Waugh, the 112m hydrogen-electric Aqua from Sinot Architecture & Design, Lürssen’s 100m+ superyacht project Cosmos, the Hynova 40-day boat by Hynova Yachts and Sanlorenzo’s hydrogen-powered builds.

Acionna by Andy Waugh - Photo by BOAT International, Rupert Peace.

By examining recent developments in Europe, along with insights from a comprehensive fuel cell whitepaper, we delve into three key aspects that are reshaping the hydrogen discussion: Fuel Cell Technology, Challenges for Future Fuels, and Marina Infrastructure.

  1. Fuel Cell Technology:

Fuel cells have an anode and a cathode, separated by a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM).  They create electricity through galvanic action, similar to the way a battery works, but instead of storing and discharging electrons, a fuel cell generates electron flow from a fuel, usually hydrogen.

How does a yacht owner get it? With the right technology, it can be electrolysed from water. Or it can come from methanol. A reformer fuel cell, like those that Siemens Energy designed for Sanlorenzo, separates hydrogen from the other components of methanol, which are carbon and oxygen.

A fuel cell whitepaper published by Lürssen, a renowned name in yacht construction, provides an in-depth exploration of fuel cell technology’s potential in the maritime world. The whitepaper covers the mechanics, benefits, and challenges associated with fuel cells, offering a comprehensive guide for yacht manufacturers and operators looking to adopt this innovative technology.

Environmental Sustainability: Superyachts adopting hydrogen can contribute to reducing the maritime industry’s carbon footprint. An example is cutting the amount of harmful sulphur (SOx), nitric oxide (NOx) and particulate matter that yachts can emit into the atmosphere.  Yachts will also be unaffected by any local fossil fuel bans.

Energy Density: Hydrogen has a high energy density, making it a viable alternative for larger vessels requiring long range capability (as battery powered electric systems require regular recharging). This can enhance the cruising range and operational flexibility compared to traditional fossil fuels.

Reduced Noise and Vibration: Hydrogen fuel cells offer quieter and smoother operation compared to traditional combustion engines, enhancing passenger and crew comfort and onboard experience.

Operational: Without factoring in exhaust, ventilation and cooling, Fuel Cell units are lighter and more compact than traditional options. Fuel cells have very little maintenance and are more efficient than a diesel engine.

Italy’s emphasising a commitment to powering yachts with hydrogen. Sanlorenzo is making waves with its projects: their year-end acquisitions of international charter company Equinoxe and Asia’s largest yacht dealer, Simpson Marine, is earmarked to drive further innovation with the use of green methanol and hydrogen as yachting fuels of the future.

The maritime sector coming together is important for innovation and development – Meet4Hydrogen will be hosted in Toulon from March 27 to 28  where more than 300 professionals will meet to discover sustainable solutions offered by more than 100 international suppliers and brands and/or discuss the hydrogen transition.

  1. Challenges for Future Fuels:

With such a large existing fleet, 70 percent of which are below 50 metres in length, and with the technological and design challenges of future fuels still a huge hurdle to overcome, what does that mean for yacht owners now and in the future?  Adopting hydrogen technologies, is not without its challenges. 

Costs: Initial investment costs for hydrogen technology may be higher than conventional propulsion systems, although advancements in technology and economies of scale will drive prices down. Long-term benefits will arise as reduced operational expenses and environmental impact.

Energy Production Methods: The environmental benefits of hydrogen depend on the method of production. While green hydrogen, produced using renewable energy, is environmentally friendly, grey hydrogen generated from fossil fuels may not provide a significant reduction in emissions.

Infrastructure: Establishing a robust infrastructure for hydrogen production, storage, and distribution is essential to support the transition to hydrogen-powered yachts. This infrastructure requires collaborative efforts from governments, private entities, and international organisations to develop a comprehensive infrastructure network.

Storage and Safety: Hydrogen is challenging to store. Proper handling and storage of hydrogen are crucial to mitigate safety concerns associated with its flammability and potential leakage. Lürssen’s whitepaper emphasises the need for standardised regulations to meet IMO regulations and EU regulatory pathways and international cooperation to establish a framework that addresses safety concerns across the yachting industry.

  1. Marina Infrastructure:

First movers are developing solutions to reduce carbon emissions in the yachting sector, and from that ongoing development and implementation of infrastructure will push up demand and production.  

Alongside essential services like bunkering, marinas are investing in the necessary infrastructure for yachts to refuel with hydrogen.  Monaco Yacht Club recently unveiled a groundbreaking hydrogen pontoon, marking a significant step forward in embracing state-of-the-art fuel cell technology, showcasing the Principality’s commitment to becoming a hub for eco-conscious yachting. This serves as a prime example how marinas play a crucial role in facilitating future demand.

In Italy, the commitment to hydrogen infrastructure is evident in ongoing projects that aim to establish hydrogen refuelling stations along popular yachting routes. This infrastructure not only supports the local yachting community but also encourages international yachts to cruise in Italian waters with the assurance of efficient refuelling solutions.

ACI Marinas is positioning itself for an energy transition, precisely thanks to the ‘Hydrogen Valley North Adriatic’ project.  Their aim is for the ACI marina Opatija in Ičići to be the first ACI marina, where the entire hydrogen value chain would be developed, including production of energy from renewable sources, energy storage and energy efficiency measures.

Collaboration between industry stakeholders, research institutions, governments, manufacturers and marinas is vital for driving innovation for hydrogen production, storage and distribution.

The North Adriatic Hydrogen Valley

Fuelling Tomorrow

Despite the challenges, the superyacht industry is witnessing notable strides in hydrogen adoption, as demonstrated by ongoing R&D by forward-thinking yacht builders. The advancement of hydrogen as a fuel in the superyacht industry promotes technological innovation which can drive efficiency improvements. Ongoing education, information and motivation within the industry will play a pivotal role in overcoming obstacles and making hydrogen a viable and sustainable future fuel for superyachts.

We invite you to share your perspectives and experiences with us.  Leave a comment, or reach out to us by email:

Author: Malcolm Moss  |  SEA Yacht Group