Fuel cells shipping future looks plain sailing

E4tech, an international strategic consultancy on sustainable energy, has published The Fuel Cell Industry Review 2018, its fifth annual overview of the fuel cell sector.

A low emission technology, fuel cells convert fuel, often hydrogen, to electricity and heat. They are key to transitioning away from carbon fuels and encourage innovation to drive economic growth, ultimately offering pollution-free energy.

2018 saw the groundwork for fuel cells and hydrogen application continue to be laid. Fuel cell costs dropped, manufacturing capacity expanded, the supply chain firmed up, and governments and companies set out targets for true mass production and adoption.

The most significant advancements in fuel cell application over the last year has been in the transport category where fuel cells power vehicles and vessels. The future of transport is looking increasingly fuel cell driven and this includes ships and boats, especially when we consider that commercial maritime contributes more CO2 emissions than all the cars in the world.

Fuel cells can be used for propulsion, for co-generation of power and heat onboard, as well as providing quayside power and so the development of heavy-duty fuel cells is of interest across the industry. From ports and marinas, to shipping firms and passenger ship operators there’s a tranche of interesting projects underway.

The world’s first large-scale hydrogen fuel cell passenger vessel will be in service in the US by September 2019. The 70ft long boat can carry 84 passengers and has hydrogen tanks which can power the boat for two days. The 600kW motors allow for 22 knots.

In Norway, fuel cells are being used for short shipping and there is planning for high speed ferries in 2021. The application of fuel cells to quayside power is also being explored and not just in Norway.

Quayside power for ferries in Kirkwall, Scotland, is also being explored as part of the BIG HIT project, an EU initiative, where the hydrogen is renewably sourced from tidal and wind from nearby Eday and Shapinsay. This is a model for remote communities rich in renewables.

Planning is also underway for the first fully-electric superyacht by Germany’s Nobiskrug Shipyard and H2 Industries. This is a pilot project to establish the use of technology for every-day fuel cell operation and will collect data to see how the technology can be applied and adapted for larger and heavier ships on long voyages.

The increasing range of fuel cell and hydrogen products available are enabling new business models. Large corporations are starting to invest in fuel cells and hydrogen as part of their strategy with some linking their interests in infrastructure, logistics, supply chain, energy and other forms of transport beyond shipping.

Commenting on the state of fuel cells, report lead author Professor David Hart, E4tech said: “There’s a real tangible interest in deployment, scale-up and sustainable business propositions. Governments are indicating that fuel cells are a genuine contender in driving economic and industrial growth, beyond having clear environmental benefits.

“The next two years are key and we fully expect to see increased investment, innovation, sector growth and adoption.”

He continued: “Policy screws are tightening around air quality, the next potential public health crisis, while regulation on CO2 emissions looks likely to firm up too. Thus, hydrogen is increasingly attractive to industries reliant on carbon powered fuels, from public transport to shipping, manufacturing and logistics.”