Fuel Cells: King of the Seas?

Fuel Cells: King of the Seas?

The Maritime industry has long been one of the largest contributors of global greenhouse gasses (ghg), with annual CO2 emissions approaching 950 million tonnes. To give that stat some magnitude, just one large shipping-container vessel can emit the equivalent pollution to 50 million cars!

Left unregulated, the industry had been expected to contribute up to 17% of the global CO2 emissions by 2050.

With international shipping pollution accounting for up to 50,000 premature deaths per year in Europe alone, it was imperative that new emission regulations be put in place by both governments and governing bodies. One such regulation outlined by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) proposes that the industry cuts out all ghg emissions by the end of the century; with an initial strategy set out to reduce 2008’s emissions level by 50% by 2050.

Whilst mandates like these are indeed powerful, they will no doubt be leaving manufacturers, users and the necessary decision makers with a tough problem.

How do you actually achieve this?

Moving large, heavy volumes long distances has and always will be an energy intensive endeavour and that is not likely to change. What needs addressing is what energy vector can provide the required energy?

In an effort to cut local emissions, many users first thoughts will tend towards the implementation of battery technologies. The Teslas of the sea? However, whilst batteries may provide an excellent short-duty cycle option, they alone will not be able to take the full load required to power long range shipping vessels. The simple reasons for this are they have a relatively low power density and therefore carry large weight penalty and also have long recharge times.

For a vessel required to travel thousands of miles, the sheer weight of batteries required to achieve this feat would be so enormous that the cargo carrying capacity of the vessel would suffer. And whilst fast chargers are a good option, the quantity of batteries required to be charged will not only take far too long (especially for a vessel that makes its money from being on the sea); but can also lead to expedited chemistry degradation and eventual prohibitive replacement costs.

There is a reprieve, however. Hydrogen fuel cells may present the perfect zero emission solution. Fuel cells, like the Bramble Energy PCBFC, generate electricity from hydrogen gas whilst producing no emissions other than water vapour. So, when thought of as an engine, as long as there is a hydrogen source – typically stored in cylinders or similar, the fuel cell is able to produce power.

And with an energy density 4 times better than lithium ion batteries, the vessels carrying capacity can continue almost unaffected. Finally, the shipping industry is accustomed to refuelling (albeit bunker fuel) and hydrogen can be refuelled within the same timeframe as traditional bunker fuel, with only minor dock infrastructure alterations required for storage. When compared with the electrical infrastructure that would be required to fast charge the required quantity of batteries, we at Bramble Energy think the choice is clear.

What shape do you think the future of the maritime and shipping industry is going to take? Let us know by sending us a message HERE or at enquiries@brambleenergy.com. Want to keep informed with great articles like this? Sign up to our newsletter HERE and follow us on social media using @brambleenergy.

Dr. Vidal Bharath