[INTERVIEW] Hydrogen power has future on sea as well as land: CEO
And, according to Lee Chil-han, founder and CEO of homegrown startup Vinssen, boats.
Vinssen builds hydrogen power modules for marine craft. It also makes small boats that run on alternative energies, mostly for leisure purposes.
Hydrogen power modules are hydrogen fuel cell system that creates electricity from hydrogen combined with other components such as an air filtering system and electric power converters.
The hydrogen fuel cell systems are outsourced from companies like Hyundai Motor. Vinssen is in charge of developing other components and putting them all together.
Vinssen is also trying to use the modules on large ships in partnership with shipbuilders such as Singapore's Navig8.
Headquartered in the South Jeolla coastal city of Yeongam, the company was founded in 2017.
“The environmental standards for the shipping industry are getting stricter, but not much is being done at the moment, especially in Korea. Neither regulations nor even tests of these environmentally friendly ships have been set up properly,” said Lee in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily recently.
“We are paving the way. In the long-term, we believe 20 percent of marine mobility will run on hydrogen and we want to take about half of the market [for hydrogen power modules mounted on ships].”
In addition to packaging hydrogen power modules, Vinssen designs and manufactures small boats that run on electricity both from lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cell systems.
Last year, it finished testing the hydrogen-powered Hydrogenia, a 10-meter leisure craft for six passengers. The boat was unveiled at the Busan International Boat Show last April and was named Best Boat of the Year.
It has a maximum speed of 19 kilometers per hour and can run about six hours on a single charge of its hydrogen fuel cell system.
The boat is ready for sale and is able to run in designated areas in Korea.
While much of the talk about hydrogen as a power source of the future revolves around fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), Lee believes the transition will happen faster on the seas.
“Ships usually have set routes and stops, which make them more suitable for hydrogen systems,” said Lee.
Banking on that belief, Vinssen joined forces with Singapore-based vessel maker Navig8 to develop 180-meter vessels that run on hydrogen.
Vinssen will use liquefied ammonia to power the ship.
Liquefied ammonia in tanks will be converted to hydrogen on board, which will then be used to make electricity to power the ship.
“Ammonia is more suitable for large ships and most countries already have infrastructure to load and store ammonia at their harbors,” Lee said.
“Large ships usually need to travel for 45 days on average, so the energy source's volume and energy density is crucial.”
Converting ammonia to hydrogen is simple and doesn’t require complicated technology, according to Lee.
“There just hasn’t been enough demand for such conversion in the past,” he said.
The vessel being developed with Navig8 is scheduled for completion by the end of 2024.
Vinssen is a company that sets goals for the long term, Lee said.
“In 2021 and 2022, we said we wouldn't worry about the numbers,” Lee said. “If we sell leisure boats, we can make about 200 to 300 million won in profit but that doesn’t help achieve our vision. We would rather rely on investment and focus on research and development at the moment to achieve the bigger picture.”
Vinssen attracted some 20 billion won in investment so far from investors including Hyundai Venture Investment and Schmidt.
Its 2020 sales were 445 million won, with a net loss of 1.4 billion won.
Nonetheless, Vinssen broke ground last year on a new factory and an R&D center. The 1,381-square-meter factory in Yeongam is capable of manufacturing some 24 boats 24-meters or smaller per year and hydrogen power modules totaling 0.5 megawatts, which is around 20 modules. The R&D center next door is 4,300 square meters.
“I believe in hydrogen energy,” Lee said. “My goal is to create the market and expand it. I believe profit will be made naturally afterwards.”
BY JIN EUN-SOO [firstname.lastname@example.org]