Radical innovation is needed for the shipping industry to achieve its ambitious emissions targets. All players must have the courage to pursue technologies with great potential, even if the solutions initially appear challenging. Hydrogen fuel cells are a promising technology in this respect. Combining hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell generates electricity and heat with zero emissions and without noise or vibration. There are various cost, safety and technical issues, but research indicates promising and viable applications for hydrogen fuel cells.
For shipping, a flexible and holistic approach is needed in which fuel cells, combined with batteries and other technologies, serve a variety of main and auxiliary energy needs on board. This is the principle behind a research proposal for a Sustainable Short Sea Shipping System that RINA is coordinating, leading a consortium of Greek academic institutions and industry partners. Our goal is the swift integration of renewable energy in short sea shipping. The project’s integrated solution will employ technologies developed in Greece.
Helbio, a high-tech company specialised in hydrogen and energy systems, will integrate the fuel cell into the energy system on board. Helbio was founded by Dr Xenophon Verykios, a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Patras. The National Technical University of Athens will design the energy unit and Greek shipowners are willing to test it.
The National Technical University of Athens will design the energy unit and Greek shipowners are willing to test it. This solution could serve as the main source of propulsion for ferries serving short routes and provide auxiliary power to a larger vessel on a longer route. In port, it has significant potential for generating clean shore-side electricity for berthed ships.
RINA also coordinates the EVERYWH2ERE project*, a five-year European project funded by HORIZON 2020 that aims to develop affordable hydrogen fuel technologies. Starting from “plug-and-play” fuel cell gensets designed for niche, everyday applications, the project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of using transportable hydrogen fuel cell gensets in larger industrial contexts, including cold ironing in ports.
Fuel cell technology can support the use of LNG, whose contribution to reducing greenhouse gases is not enough to meet future targets set for shipping. Since LNG is an attractive source of hydrogen, it can be used to feed reformers that then feed fuel cells. Combined heat and power micro-systems based on hydrogen are already commercially available in the range of 5 to 50 kW, (e.g. Helbio’s Prometheus5). These can be used as main power for small ferries and yachts but can also be elevated to serve as an auxiliary source of electricity for LNG-fuelled ships.
Fuel cell technology is rapidly progressing. Initial applications on board ships represent promising solutions for hybrid/distributed power generation. With the support of research, industry and policy players, RINA is now putting effort into accelerating this technology with the aim of contributing to a sustainable future for shipping.