Shipping, which is vital to the global economy, is responsible for about 2.5% of the world’s total greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions as it is reliant on fossil fuels for power to transport about 90% of all freight goods transported by sea.
Like other forms of transport, the maritime sector has committed to reducing its carbon footprint and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has set a global target to cut yearly emissions by at least 50% by 2050 from 2008 levels.
Industry stakeholders, however, believe hydrogen-powered proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells using platinum catalysts offer the potential for shipping to achieve zero emissions, where hydrogen generated from renewable sources is used as a fuel source, making the entire energy chain clean.
A platinum-focused newsletter on October 21 by the World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC) discusses how the collaboration between experts in the field is turning this vision into reality, considering that Hydrogène de France is working with ABB to assemble and produce megawatt-scale power plants for marine vessels, using PEM fuel cells.
This initiative is based on technology developed by Ballard Power Systems, which only recently announced the launch of the fuel cell industry’s first module designed for primary propulsion power in marine vessels, such as passenger and car ferries.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the world’s first hydrogen-fuelled ferry is set to undergo testing and businesses in Norway are developing the first hydrogen PEM fuel cell cruise ship. The vessel’s proposed 3.2 MW fuel cell is expected to enable it to sail emissions-free for significant distances.
In Japan, plans are afoot to build a 100 passenger capacity high-power fuel cell vessel as a medium-sized tourist ship, while Europe’s largest ship builder, Italy’s Fincantieri, has recently taken delivery of a fuel cell stack. The stack, produced by Swedish company PowerCell, will be used to test both propulsion and power generating systems in marine applications.
Maritime vessels powered by electricity from batteries alone are already operating on waterways where short distances allow for regular recharging. However, these are not suitable for larger ships covering greater distances, considering that only PEM fuel cells can meet the payload, range and rapid refuelling required by these vessels, says the WPIC.
Fuel cells turn the chemical energy from hydrogen into electricity through an electrochemical reaction − a fuel cell can have a battery as a system component to store the electricity it is generating.
The “well to wake” concept brings wider benefits, too, says the council, who notes that it creates a hydrogen value chain that can be leveraged by other users and, landside, port operators are also embracing the hydrogen economy.