Fuel cell powered ships

Fuel cell powered ships

Fuel cells

The technology of fuel cells is based on electrochemical reactions. Through those reactions a fuel cell converts the energy of the fuel directly to electricity. A fuel such as LNG, biofuel or hydrogen is needed together with an oxidiser for the oxidation. A hybrid propulsion system can be created by applying marine fuel cells along with diesel engines.

Investment costs and operational costs are still high. For example, investment costs are 2 to 3 times higher for a fuel cell engine compared to a conventional diesel engine. The expectation is that marine fuel cells will be mostly applied to cover the demand for auxiliary power. In addition to the high costs, the crew of a ship needs to be trained to work with a fuel cell engine.

The FellowSHIP project is the first project testing marine fuel cells onboard on a large scale. (DNV) In the Zemship project a ship has been designed by ATG with two fuel cells running on hydrogen and with a capacity of 100 passengers. No auxiliary engines has been installed. There is also an EU-funded project for the development of fuel cells on methanol. The project is called METHAPU which explores the use of methanol as possibility by using prototypes. 1 of the 2 millions Euros of the total budget is funded by the EU.

The advantage of methanol is that it can be made as an electrofuel from electricity, water, and CO2.





Powering an electric ship

If we start with an electric boat/ship, we then have some options for generating the electricity.

PV cells with battery. The area of the PV cells limits the power. Batteries are heavy.

Hydrogen can run a fuel cell to generate the electricity. However it is difficult to store the hydrogen.

Hydrogen can be generated as needed by electrolysis. However this process is very inefficient wasting 60% of the energy. It would be more efficient to store the electricity in a battery.

Hydrogen can be generated as needed by reforming of methane.This wastes 15 % of the energy originally present in the gas. However the electric motor is very efficient.

The hydrogen can be fed to the PEM fuel cell, or to a diesel. If it is mixed with methane and some diesel, it makes the diesel very efficient. It also reduces particles in the exhaust. The diesel can generate electricity to power the motor.

Trybrid is an idea for a boat using all these power sources in an electric boat.


Trybid concept boat 


Eden Energy, based in Perth, and operational across the globe, promotes the use of a blend of both hydrogen and natural gas in combination, to both clean up the emissions, and improve the conventional diesel engine,  

This blend of hydrogen and natural gas is called HYTHANE gas. 


Further reading