Fuel cells in maritime operation - low emissions in port and at sea

Messe Hamburg

The first fuel cell applications on seagoing vessels will be competitive with diesel engines as early as 2020, according to a new market survey...

The research, conducted by Germanischer Lloyd (GL) on “Fuel Cell Systems in Shipping”, puts this steadily-increasing competitiveness mainly down to a rise in fuel costs, and the introduction of CO2 levies. It shows that specifically high-temperature fuel cells are suitable for efficient, low-emission base load supply on ships.

The application of fuel cell systems in merchant shipping is demonstrated by the Methapu project, a practical trial with methanol powered SOFC modules (Solid Oxide Fuel Cell) for onboard power supply (for a car transporter MV Undine). Detailed analysis of the project, completed in November, is currently in progress.

It is already evident that SOFC technology is capable of handling maritime requirements, and that methanol as a fuel is also viable from the safety viewpoint, says Ed Fort of the British ship classification society Lloyd's Register, adding that Methapu is a “door opener for the use of alternative sustainable energies in shipping.” (Editor's note - he will present the international project at a workshop chaired by Dr. Gerd Würsig, a fuel cell expert from GL, at the H2Expo in Hamburg on 8 and 9 June).

Important results on the feasibility of fuel cell technology are also provided by the Norwegian-Finnish-German Fellowship Project. As Thomas H. Tronstad of the lead company DNV Det Norske Veritas reports, the 320 kW test plant on the tender vessel Viking Lady has completed more than 7000 operating hours in North Sea conditions. There have been no serious problems or even any significant degradation of the MCFC stacks (Molten Carbonate Fuel Cell), which are powered with LNG - and mostly operate under continuous load.

The current third phase of this project is to integrate fuel cells, gas engines and batteries in a hybrid system. The goal is to keep the ship completely emission-free in port.

In addition, the first results from a flagship project e4ships will be discussed at H2Expo. e4ships is a part of the German National Innovation Programme for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NIP), and focuses on onboard power supply for shipping.

The sub-project SchIBZ is aimed at developing a maritime FC-APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) for diesel fuel. The SchIBZ programme differs from other pilot projects on ships in that it uses a fuel that is basically known and easily available and has the highest possible energy content. “The use of pure hydrogen is not viable at the present time, because there is no acceptable process available to store the hydrogen within a reasonable volume,” explains Keno Leites, Project Manager of Blohm + Voss Naval GmbH, the lead company.

Solutions are possible with all the membrane solutions, according to a preliminary study which compares the systems available in the market. But the expense is “unacceptably high” for PEM (Polymer Electrolyte Membrane), especially in comparison with SOFC. “That is why we have decided to use a configuration with SOFC, where the diesel reformer simultaneously acts as a back-up sulphur trap.”

A second e4ships sub-project, Pa-X-ell, studies the use of FC systems on passenger ships. Under the lead management of Meyer Werft, a shipyard based in Papenburg, Germany, it is developing a universally applicable standard energy module which can then be tested in support mode on board. A first module of a high-temperature FC in PEM technology is to be completed in autumn as a prototype with some 20 kW electric output. A 100 to 150 kW unit is then expected to be available about one year later, said Gerhard Untiedt, Research and Development Manager for the project at Meyer Werft.

Energy use will then be the main subject in a second implementation phase – the aim is to integrate a number of energy modules to get a new, highly efficient energy distribution concept. “We are examining an energy module that supplies electric power, heating, refrigeration and also water,” he said. The team is trying to find the optimal system configuration to make the most efficient possible use of combined heat and power. The goal is complete installation in 2013.

A combination of fuel cell and hydrogen in metal hydride cells is ideal for submarines, because it gives “an absolutely silent, highly efficient method of generating energy in underwater operation”, said Stefan Krummrich of Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH. Alongside this solution, which is already used in the market, Krummrich will also present at H2Expo a new approach based on a methanol reformer, which could in future provide larger quantities of energy - and thus permit longer diving times.

The first maritime applications have been in trial for some time now. The current state of research will be covered by a series of presentations at H2Expo in Hamburg. The 8th International Conference and Exhibition on Hydrogen Fuel Cells and Electric Drives is a forum for intensive know-how transfer in these areas. About 70 experts from 11 countries are expected to attend the specialist conference on 8 and 9 June, to discuss the latest developments in research and application, and to present current projects. The industry will showcase its market-specific products and services at the accompanying exhibition.

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Energy efficiency  •  Energy storage including Fuel cells