HOPE report analyzes the challenges and opportunities of zero-emission ferry routes in the Nordics

Fuel cell technology is a cost-effective and long-term solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Nordic shipping industry. It requires close regional cooperation and a Nordic roadmap with binding commitments to overcome barriers to deployment. These are some of the key findings of the new HOPE study: “Hydrogen fuel cells solutions in Nordic shipping”.


The research found that there is a considerable potential for emission reductions both in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) linked to the implementation of hydrogen and fuel cells in Nordic shipping, particularly in the RoPax segment, ferries transporting passengers and goods.


Together with our project partners we have analyzed different pathways for decarbonizing maritime transport with emphasis on the use of hydrogen in fuel cells. The other project partners were IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, SINTEF Ocean AS, University of Iceland and Stena Rederi AB.


Read the full report from IVL homepage

The RoPax segment studied is highly relevant for hydrogen fuel cell propulsion as 91% of voyages are less than 400 nautical miles (NM) and almost all routes are less than 700 NM, mitigating the storage and bunkering barriers impacting the use of hydrogen fuel cells in deep-sea shipping. RoPax vessels also generally travel the same routes and with predefined timetables, making bunkering easier.

Additionally, our separate analysis has found the European RoPax fleet is currently an average fleet 38 years old. This age profile means there is a significant need for newbuilds or retrofitting to improve vessel efficiency, especially with the first International Maritime Organization (IMO) Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) ratings set to be published in 2024 and the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) confirmed to include shipping form January 2024 onwards.

With all of this in mind, using hydrogen fuel cells in the RoPax segment presents a significant opportunity for decarbonizing maritime transport – but only if the barriers to commercialization are overcome. The HOPE report also analyses these challenges and outlines possible solutions including proposed policy measures.

One barrier is the relatively higher cost of hydrogen and fuel cells. The base case estimation indicates that a hydrogen fuel cell RoPax vessel will have a higher total cost of ownership than, for example, a conventional RoPax ship burning polluting marine gas oil (MGO) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) with conventional marine diesel engines.

The future cost of hydrogen fuel cell options depends mainly on the cost of hydrogen, the price of fuel cells and the price of emission allowances within the EU ETS and other market-based measures. The researchers call for stronger economic and regulatory policies and public funding to close the cost gap between renewable fuel and propulsion systems and conventional propulsion systems. More carrots and less sticks, please!

The lack of fuel infrastructure, supply of green hydrogen, and the operational challenges for handling hydrogen are all barriers that must also be overcome for hydrogen fuel cells and the success of the global energy transition more broadly. This has created uncertainty and less willingness to take on risks associated with early technology adoption. However, the commercial risk of not adopting suitable decarbonization solutions is much higher and with some risks also come major opportunities for first mover advantages.


Hydrogen fuel cells also have a higher technology readiness level (TRL) than some realize. There is a new generation of marinized, powerful, and ocean-ready cells here to tackle maritime transport emissions. PowerCell Group’s hydrogen fuel cell technology, used for the analysis found in the HOPE report, is at TRL 6-7 – defined as technology being demonstrated in the marine environment and concepts tested in marine operation.


The insights presented in the HOPE report are designed to help policy makers recognize and understand the challenges for establishing zero-emission ferry routes so they can help prioritize the actions needed. The findings suggest that policy intervention will be required at different stages of the hydrogen value chain and across different industries. Therefore, a holistic and systemic perspective and a close collaboration between stakeholders will be required to establish zero-emission ferry routes between the Nordic countries.