The Power of Hydrogen to the X: The Wärtsilä ship — Reetta Kaila (Ep. 40)

Reeta Kaila – Episode 40

This week we speak with Reetta Kaila, Director for Sustainable Fuels and Environment at Wartsila. She holds a Doctorate of Sciences in Industrial Chemistry. And if you review her CV, and listen to our discussion, you’ll both see and hear her drive to both research and operationalize a more circular form of power production in both industry and academia. She is a true scientist in solving problems and holding substantial experience to solve some of the key technological challenges we are facing, such as using hydrogen and gas in power production and propulsion.

On the surface, Reetta differs from previous guests because she works for a large corporation, which is Wartsila. But as you’ll hear, Wartsila is a company that is the energy transition. That is, they are the ones building the power plants, the engines, and the batteries that underpin the energy and transport system of the current fossil fuel era, and as you’ll hear, the future era of lower or zero carbon engines and storage options.

Wärtsilä, which according to their website is a global leader in smart technologies and complete lifecycle solutions for the marine and energy markets. In 2020, Wärtsilä’s net sales totaled EUR 4.6 billion with approximately 18,000 employees. The company has operations in over 200 locations in more than 70 countries around the world. That is the general description from the website.

But what will you learn from my conversation with Reeta today?

First, you’ll learn about pink hydrogen. That is my teaser, and you’ll have to listen to the show to find out what is pink hydrogen.

Second, you’ll find out how and why designing and building power and pollution abatement equipment for ships drives innovative solutions. Designing for these small environments can translate into big innovations on land.

I really liked our discussion about working in a marine environment, particularly on ships. Because if you think about the Earth, it is one big giant spaceship. And as Reeta tells us, the engines of a ship can produce 90 MW which is the same as that consumed by a big city. If you think about that size we really are talking about massive infrastructure being built by Wartsila. It is this machinery is where the uptake in new low or zero-carbon technologies needs to be used to reduce carbon emissions.

Innovation, as Reeta discovered isn’t just done in a laboratory, but as she points out it is solving problems when a customer needs it. She uses an example of what to do with the gases coming from boiling heavy oil (or bulk oil) on a ship. Well, they discovered you could mix it with LNG and feed it back into the engine – and wala, not only do you get more power, but you get innovation.

Among, other topics, we learn about Power X, which is a program that looks to understand what to do with the extra electricity on the grids created by renewable energy. Some of it can go to battery storage, or even be turned into hydrogen for longer storage. Our discussion on hydrogen comes about halfway, but you’ll find it really exciting when we discuss the different properties of hydrogen and gas. And how you can even mix 25% hydrogen and 75% natural gas and power an engine. However, just a word of caution, don’t try this at home. 

We end the interview with understanding the role of society and with a hope that by 2050 we are running on pure hydrogen. Overall, I found our conversation fascinating for understanding what are the new technological – and even policy – challenges for companies producing the machinery that is now powering our energy system today and tomorrow.

About the Author
Dr. Michael LaBelle is an associate professor at Central European University. He holds a joint appointment between the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy and the Department of Economics and Business. He founded the MyEnergy2050 website to change how we communicate and implement the energy transition.
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