Strategic R&D Alliance Formed to Standardize Materials for Liquefied Hydrogen Ships

South Korea’s top three shipbuilders and two steelmakers, along with the Korean Register (KR), have formed a strategic R&D alliance to secure leadership in the burgeoning market for liquefied hydrogen (LH2) carriers. On June 13, HD Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Engineering, Samsung Heavy Industries, Hanwha Ocean, POSCO, Hyundai Steel, and the Korean Register signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the ‘Standardization of Material Testing for Liquefied Hydrogen Ships.’

This collaboration aims to address the technical challenges of transporting hydrogen, which must be cooled to minus 253 degrees Celsius and compressed to 1/800th of its volume to be in a liquid state. The design and construction of ‘liquefied hydrogen cargo holds,’ which can safely store hydrogen at these ultra-low temperatures, are considered core technologies for LH2 carriers.

The alliance’s primary goal is to research and verify the material properties needed to withstand external impacts at such extreme temperatures. Currently, there are no international standards for liquefied hydrogen cargo holds, leading to fierce competition in technology development among countries worldwide. By sharing experimental results on material properties in liquefied hydrogen environments and jointly utilizing data, the alliance aims to promote international standardization related to the design and construction of these cargo holds.

The formation of this alliance comes in the wake of past challenges faced by South Korea’s shipbuilding industry. The first Korean LNG cargo hold (KC-1) experienced design defects, leading to cold spots and prolonged legal disputes among the shipowner SK Shipping, the manufacturer Samsung Heavy Industries, and the cargo hold designer Korea Gas Corporation. These issues have underscored the importance of overcoming past design flaws and achieving technological independence.

The shipbuilding industry plans to overcome these past design defects through collaboration with the steel industry, which was not involved in the development of KC-1. This partnership aims to enhance the technological competitiveness of South Korea in the design and construction of liquefied hydrogen carriers. The five companies and the Korean Register have agreed that the impact toughness of materials decreases at ultra-low temperatures compared to room temperature, necessitating extensive research and verification.

“Securing Leadership in Hydrogen Carriers” is a key objective for the alliance, as emphasized by the stakeholders. They believe that the development of liquefied hydrogen cargo holds will be carried out using purely domestic technology by South Korea’s leading shipbuilding and steel companies, setting a new standard in the international market.

The alliance’s efforts are expected to lay the technical foundation for South Korea to dominate the next-generation hydrogen carrier market. This move not only aims to boost national pride but also positions South Korea as a leader in the global transition to sustainable energy.

The current status of the alliance’s work involves sharing experimental results and promoting international standardization. The five companies and the Korean Register are committed to enhancing their technological competitiveness and ensuring the safety and reliability of liquefied hydrogen carriers. As the world moves towards cleaner energy solutions, South Korea’s proactive approach in this field could have significant environmental and economic implications, potentially creating jobs and driving innovation in the industry.

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