Energy transition

Air Liquide just gets on with it: sailing and driving on hydrogen

12 December 2023
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Reading time: 4 minutes

Did you know that there is a CO2-neutral inland vessel full of sneakers sailing non-stop between the port of Rotterdam and Nike’s logistics centre, east of Antwerp? The ship covers this 200-kilometre journey driven by renewable hydrogen, with exchangeable hydrogen tanks, resulting in zero emissions!

And that’s a world first, thanks to the latest innovation by Air Liquide. This is an important step for inland shipping, but Diederick Luijten, directorof hydrogen energyat Air Liquide, has greater ambitions: “We want to encourage greater sustainability across a large part of the mobility sector by transitioning to hydrogen.”

Air Liquide is a French multinational that supplies industrial gas to the industrial, care and electronics sectors. Luijten has already worked at the company for three decades, focusing since 2019 on the acceleration of the hydrogen market for transport on rivers, sea and land, but also in aviation. The first hydrogen-powered inland vessel got underway in May 2023, marking a new milestone.

Rapid charging

So what’s the major ‘invention’? Luijten explains: “It is a 110-metre container ship called ‘H2 Barge 1’. It features a specially fitted fuel-cell system, allowing it to sail on hydrogen. The hydrogen is held in exchangeable tank containers developed by Air Liquide. A single container enables the ship to sail for one day. Once a container is empty, we simply unload it and refuel it in our hydrogen factory. A driver then transports the recharged container to the ship where it is reloaded on board. Because the ship is hydrogen powered, it saves more than 2000 tonnes of CO2 per year. This is the first 100% zero-emission ship.”


“This ship is the first in the world of this size that is powered by hydrogen. We invested a great deal of time in designing and creating the concept of a rechargeable tank, but in the end we now have a safe and efficient solution for the market. Thanks to the exchangeable tanks, the ship always has fuel on board, so it never looses any time bunkering. The fact that this ship is sailing, is thanks to the collaboration between various parties, such as FPS and Nike, as well as companies in the port network and all contractors who want join forces to clean up the industry. The team that realised the H2 Barge 1 are pioneers and a clear demonstration that greater sustainability can be achieved for inland shipping at a large scale when we work together.”

“If it’s possible anywhere, then it’s in the port of Rotterdam”

Join forces

Air Liquide is a genuinely innovative enterprise. Luijten: “We have always developed technology and products that drive sectors forward. We are continuously innovating and are constantly searching for cleaner and more sustainable solutions. Always together with others – that’s what drives both our company and me personally. And if it’s possible anywhere, it’s at the port of Rotterdam, which is still Europe’s largest port, and a leading light in making the port industry more sustainable. You’ll find three very different parties here that are all working towards making their activities greener, at either system or chain level or at micro scale. Utilise each other’s expertise. Don’t wait, just get on with it, regardless of the size of your organisation. Join forces!”

A look at the future

In the meantime, Air Liquide and Luijten are going full steam ahead with their mission of a carbon-free earth. “Again, naturally in collaboration with industrial partners big and small and skippers, though for regulatory and subsidy purposes we also need to work with public-sector parties to enable us to scale up. Ultimately we want to make all inland vessels zero emission.“

De H2 Barge 1
The H2 Barge 1

“Another concrete step towards a zero-emission industry is the HyTrucks project: 1,000 heavy-goods vehicles that will have to run on hydrogen in the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Duisburg in 2025/2026, including the infrastructure for fuel stations. Ultimately, we want to drive greater sustainability for the railway and aviation sectors, too. Which is why the hydrogen tanks on the ship are such a key step in the energy transition and towards the future. It can’t come soon enough, in my opinion. Air Liquide doesn’t just talk about it, but we really do ‘walk the talk’. We show that it’s really possible.”