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[Hydrogen Korea] ‘Hydrogen technology could save ailing shipbuilders’

The Korea Herald is publishing a series of articles on South Korea’s latest measures, hurdles and the market drive for hydrogen economy. This is the fourth installment. -- Ed.

Hydrogen technology, which aims to replace the use of fossil fuels, would not only benefits carmakers, but also other traditional industrial players such as shipbuilders, the head of H2Korea said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.

“The market perception that the government’s push for hydrogen technology is only for Hyundai Motor is still strong. That’s because other companies still have doubts on the profitability of hydrogen technology as business,” said Shin Jae-haeng, chief operating officer of H2Korea, a state-funded body launched to bridge the government and private sector on the development of hydrogen technology.

Addressing the potential of hydrogen as a reliable future business, Shin said it could help ailing local shipbuilders find a new path.

South Korea’s reputation as the world’s biggest shipbuilding country has been losing its track due to declining orders and fierce price competition. Hyundai Heavy Industries, the largest shipbuilder in the world, recently implemented a restructuring scheme that included massive layoffs.

Shin Jae-haeng, chief operating officer of H2Korea (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Shin Jae-haeng, chief operating officer of H2Korea (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

What Shin suggested were vessels powered by hydrogen and ships to carry liquefied hydrogen from point to point. Japan has set up an international supply chain that connects to Australia and Brunei to source its hydrogen. And hydrogen vessels will make that supply system work, he said. Though it is a leader in fuel cell cars powered by hydrogen, Korea lags far behind in the development of hydrogen ships.

“I believe that hydrogen vessels have (business) potential, and we are capable of bringing that to fruition, considering the nation’s experience as a fast follower.”

The demand for green ships will grow. Talk of battery-powered vessels has been going on for years, with orders of ships powered by liquefied natural gas growing. But hydrogen could excel particularly in the field of maritime transportation, where it could go further and produce no greenhouse gases.

The International Maritime Organization has announced it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry in half by 2050, and make ships 100 percent CO2-free by 2100. Such global efforts will push shipowners to ditch diesel vessels and replace them with green ones.

“Hydrogen is still in uncharted territory, but we are somehow heading toward the world of hydrogen, based on the international consensus built to fight against climate change,” said Shin, who served various posts at the Ministry of Energy before joining H2Korea.

Established last year, H2Korea serves as a think tank for the Ministry of Energy and a platform to promote the use of hydrogen as a new energy source.

(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
(Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

It also coordinates participation of companies in a special purpose company launched to build more hydrogen refueling stations. The 15-member alliance, which includes Hyundai Motor, Hyosung Heavy and SK Gas, is seeking to have more corporate investment to build a total of 100 refueling stations by 2022.

To encourage corporate participation, Shin said the government needs to have consistent policies to ensure the continuance of the businesses, build more infrastructure to make business possible in the early stages and provide more incentives. Most importantly, there should be a control tower to push the government’s drive.

“Government subsidies for fuel cell cars are crucial to promote the public awareness of hydrogen,” he said, noting that the Environment Ministry remains reluctant on expanding the use of hydrogen-powered cars.

H2Korea also campaigns for the use of hydrogen as a future energy at the civil level. It is one of the organizers of H2World, an exhibition on hydrogen technology to be held in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, from Oct. 10-12.

By Cho Chung-un (