Legislators in the US state of California have allocated the University of California San Diego US$35m to design and build a new coastal research vessel that will feature a hydrogen hybrid propulsion system. The ship, which will be operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, will serve as a platform for education and research dedicated to understanding the California coast and the impact of climate change on its ecosystem.
The proposed 125ft vessel will take three years to design, build and commission, and is set to replace the Robert Gordon Sproul research vessel, which is nearing the end of its 40-year service life. “With 840 miles [1,352km] of coastline, it is important for California to manage its access to the vast resources of the Pacific Ocean,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. “To do that, we need to better understand our coastal environments and how climate change is affecting them. That’s where Scripps Institution of Oceanography can help. This new state-of-the-art research vessel will expand our capability to understand and protect our coastline and train UC San Diego undergraduate and graduate students through unparalleled hands-on learning.”
The hybrid and hydrogen-fueled propulsion system design of the vessel will contribute to the University of California’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative, which has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2025. The system integrates hydrogen fuel cells alongside a conventional diesel-electric powerplant, enabling zero-emission operations. The design is scaled so the ship will be able to undertake 75% of its missions using only hydrogen; for longer missions, extra power will be provided by clean-running diesel generators.
“Our vision is to build an uncompromising, fully capable oceanographic research vessel that can be powered independently from fossil fuels, and be free from the criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions that diesel-powered ships emit,” said Bruce Appelgate, associate director and head of ship operations at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “In doing so, we hope to serve our scientists and students while being a world leader for transformational change to clean, non-polluting shipboard power systems.”
The ship will be outfitted with instruments and sensing systems, including acoustic Doppler current profilers, seafloor mapping systems, midwater fishery imaging systems, biological and geological sampling systems, and support for airborne drone operations. These capabilities, along with onboard laboratories, will enable multidisciplinary research to take place.
The feasibility study to conceptualize the hydrogen fuel cell propulsion technology for the vessel was initially completed in 2020 by Sandia National Laboratories, Glosten and Scripps. The study was funded by the US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration.