Sandia National Labs Study Finds Fuel Cells Viable for Powering Ships in Ports

28 Jun 2013

Sandia Pratt

Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) has published a report, commissioned by the US Department of Energy, analysing the benefits of using hydrogen fuel cells to power ships at berth and replace incumbent diesel generators.

Docked ships usually use diesel generators to provide their power which is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, accounting for one-third to one-half of the in-port emissions attributed to ocean-going vessels. One study by the Natural Resources Defense Council reported average daily emissions for a busy port could exceed the total emissions of around 500,000 vehicles.

The study evaluated a barge-mounted hydrogen fuel cell system which would provide around 1.4 MW to a ship over 48 hours. The barge would house four shipping containers, two containing PEM fuel cells and another two containing the hydrogen storage units. Smaller requirements, such as to power tugboats, could be met using a single container housing both the fuel cell and hydrogen.

Joe Pratt, from Sandia, visited seven West Coast ports in California, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii and also two US Department of Transport Maritime Administration Facilities. He said "While Sandia has previously examined the potential for hydrogen and fuel cells in other applications, this is the first study of a maritime environment."

Another competing alternative is to power berthed vessels using grid electricity, by installing the necessary infrastructure. One advantage of fuel cell systems is that a barge-mounted system also has the capability of being moved from berth to berth as needed and to anchorage points to power vessels that are waiting for berths.

The study's basic fuel cost analysis showed that at today's prices hydrogen, at about $4 per kilogram, with a fuel cell is cost-competitive with maritime fuels using a combustion engine. Subsequent analysis has shown that when generators are frequently producing less than maximum power, such as in the Hawaii application, the efficiency advantage of fuel cells compared to the combustion engine is widened. Even hydrogen at $5 per kilogram can potentially save tens of thousands of dollars per year for each generator.

"Fuel cost is only part of the total economic picture," Pratt said.

He is now developing a detailed plan for the Hawaiian interisland transport barge application. "A successful deployment of the containerized fuel cell on a floating platform in a typical marine environment will be useful not only in this particular service, but also because it validates the concept for the larger, container-ship-sized application," Pratt said. "It’s challenging on many levels, but technically feasible with potential worldwide commercial impact."

The full report can be downloaded here.


Source: Sandia National Laboratories

Image: Steffan Schulz


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