Lost your password?
Don't have an account? Sign Up

Padmini Mellacheruvu helped write the world’s first rules for classing hydrogen powered ships

Share This News Story:

BENGALURU : Guntur, Andhra Pradesh born-raised and BITS Pilani educated Ms. Padmini Mellacheruvu, a former engineer associated with cryogenic rocket systems at India’s space agency, helped write the world’s first so-called ‘class rules’ for hydrogen powered ships after she quit the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and joined London-based Lloyd’s Register, the oldest and one of the top global ship classification societies.

The ‘class rules’ for hydrogen fuelled ships will support the global shipping industry – which accounts for some 3 percent of the global carbon emissions – in its endeavour to meet the decarbonisation targets set by the International Maritime Organisation (the UN agency tasked with regulating global shipping) to bring shipping closer to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature-warming limit.

Globally, fleet owners are trying out alternate fuels such as methanol and hydrogen to build and run ships, an effort that will gain speed as the world increasingly pivot towards green energy.

Ship classification societies such as Lloyd’s Register certifies ships for sea worthiness by providing classification and compliance services to the marine and offshore industries, helping ship owners design, construct, operate, and decommission their assets safely as per environmental expectations. This is done by framing rules that are referred to as ‘class rules’.

Writing ‘class rules’ for hydrogen powered ships was an unchartered water for ship classification societies. By hiring Padmini, Lloyd’s Register, founded in 1760, shows how the marine industry is tapping the space industry to pursue its decarbonisation initiatives as it transforms with the twin focus on digitalisation and adoption of green fuels.

“The role of a Lloyd’s Register colleague whether that’s a ship surveyor or whether that is somebody working in our digital survey centre, is changing and will change and what that means is that we’re not looking at those traditional pools anymore in terms of academic or experience background,” Mark Darley, Chief Operating Officer, Lloyd’s Register said in an interview during a visit to Mumbai last week.

“To give you an example, at Lloyd’s Register, we had to write class rules for hydrogen fuelled vessels. Now, when we looked within the marine industry to find someone who knows anything about burning hydrogen in a marine engine, we couldn’t find anybody. Because all the people that know about burning hydrogen in an engine worked in the space agency,” Darley noted.

“So, we went to ISRO and hired Padmini to come and write our hydrogen rules. She left ISRO, joined Lloyd’s Register and we moved her to the UK because we needed to do it quickly. We have published our hydrogen rules – the world’s first by a class society,” Darley said.

“In a space agency or in the space industry, she felt like a very small fish but in maritime she feels like a big fish because for us in maritime, hydrogen is new but in a space agency hydrogen is not new. So, the attraction to come and work in maritime and be the expert and a big fish was the main motivating factor for her to come and join us,” Darley added.

Quitting her “dream and lifetime job” with ISRO to join Lloyd’s Register as the ‘Lead Specialist for Cryogenic and Compressed Gas Fuels’ was a tough call to make, says Ms. Padmini, the daughter of an optometrist father and a school headmistress mother.

After completing her mechanical engineering from BITS Pilani, Ms. Padmini worked in Tata Technologies for a year in its passenger car crash analysis unit in Pune before joining the Satish Dhawan Space Centre – the nation’s only rocket launch site located at Sriharikota, which she describes as a “haven” for mechanical engineers with large scale engineering applications and cryogenics.

During her seven years at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Padmini was a systems reliability engineer working for cryogenic rocket support equipment, basically rocket propellants. The team she was assigned to looked after the reliability, safety aspects, operations, testing etc of liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen, liquid nitrogen and all the large-scale propellant installations on the ground.

She was also involved in the Chandrayaan 2 mission and on the Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD).

“It was a very fulfilling career at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. So, it took me a long time to accept that I would be leaving ISRO but the call or the challenge that the LR role presented especially with renewable energies and the whole hydrogen economy finally sort of convinced me that it’s not going to be a bad decision to take it up,” she said over phone from London.

“I have not regretted this decision in the last two years since joining Lloyd’s Register, even though I regret leaving ISRO. But this has its own set of challenges which I am enjoying now,” says the young engineer Ms. Padmini.

Did she find writing the ‘class rules’ for hydrogen ships a difficult proposition?

Being new to shipping, Ms. Padmini says she provided expertise on hydrogen systems and the engineering aspects, but there were other specialists providing experience on fire safety, structural aspects, applications like location of hydrogen things on board, layout etc. “It was a huge team effort rather than me leading on this. We have our own niche fields,” she says with modesty, crediting her teammates for accomplishing the task.

“Besides, there is a lot of language in writing the rules which I was unfamiliar with, especially because coming from a different industry, I didn’t have experience as a rules author, basically it’s like writing an ISO standard etc. I am now learning how to write rules, but when I joined it was difficult because the terminology and everything its sort of like law, writing those rules is like a lawyers speak which I was unfamiliar with even though I know the technical aspects,” she admitted.

It was Padmini’s keen interest in cryogenics that landed her the role at Lloyd’s Register.
“The Lloyd’s Register job description looked exactly tailor made for me because they were looking for somebody with large scale cryogenic experience,” she said.

“That’s when I realised that there is a huge hydrogen industry out there that is going to come up and it has always been my interest with renewable energy, sustainable engineering etc. Looking at this job opportunity it sort of started growing in me that it would be good to branch out, use the experience that I have gained in the space industry and the space industry has decades of experience with hydrogen, liquid hydrogen and all that but other industries like automotive and marine they are just now starting to realise the potential that hydrogen has as a green, zero carbon fuel. It was like a pioneering application, and I felt like I could be at the forefront of it if I could get into this sort of role. It was a very tailor-made match for me which happened serendipitously,” she added.

Ms. Padmini reckons that bringing knowledge from the space industry to the marine industry will help the sector grow in terms of renewable energy.

“Because this is the need of the hour now – transition to green energies. Marine contributes about 3 percent of the global carbon emissions. I feel proud for doing my part in reducing or transitioning towards green energy,” she said.

Ms. Padmini is also egged on by the innovation challenges that the industry offers, which she says is “really exciting”.

“We are just scratching the surface with hydrogen adoption. We are seeing a lot of projects, and we are also seeing a lot of innovation in these areas.

The hydrogen industry has been stagnant so far because applications were very limited. Now with automotive, aviation and marine industries trying to adopt hydrogen as alternate fuel and with these commercial industries stepping in, we are at the cusp of huge innovation. I see myself centred in all these and I feel motivated that I get to contribute towards all these innovations through Lloyd’s Register,” she added.

Share This News Story: