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2019 December 2

Solid oxide fuel cell economy

Electric power supply based on polyethylene and solid oxide fuel cells can become the most promising and universally applicable way to reduce environmental and economic risks of maritime shipping.

Battery ships

The volume of global maritime shipping is still high showing its historical peak despite the slowdown in growth rates. It exceeds 11 million tonnes per year. Shipping companies are seeking reduction of cargo ships operating costs the bulk of with is made by fuel costs.

Ship owners should also comply with regularly toughening emission regulations. For example, the IMO 2020 Sulphur Cap on marine fuels reduced to 0.5% is set to come into force in January. The economy of seaborne transportation should be reconsidered inevitably, with introduction of advanced technologies including those for bunkering among the key trends towards enhancing of its competitiveness.

The methods of raising ships’ energy efficiency through improvement of power plants basing on energy conversion principles have virtually reached their limit.

Tom Boardley, Marine Director at Lloyd's Register (LR), believes that the search for more efficient technologies in shipbuilding should focus on transition to more promising fuels and, consequently, on development of new propulsion plants and ship structures.

There are not that many alternatives to LNG. Not taking into account single solutions but basing on prevalence and scientific validity, LNG is followed by methanol, biofuel and electrically driven systems with fuel cells.

Electric power supply based on polyethylene and solid oxide fuel cells seems to become the most promising and universally applicable way to reduce environmental and economic risks of seaborne cargo transportation.

The development of fuel cell power plants is primarily based on two technologies – electrochemical generator and storage systems or hydrogen production.

Fuel-cell units with proton exchange membrane of up to 50 kW and low-noise clean energy units based on them and running on natural gas and air are intended for energy supply to different ships and offshore gas production facilities.

Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity without combustion thus excluding hazardous emissions. Electric The amount of electric power is up to 70% which is impossible even in theory for a thermal cycle. Besides, fuel cells of this type can operate without using precious metals as electrochemical reaction catalysts. The kinetics of hydrogen electrochemical oxidation is fast even at low temperature, so it can be used without time-consuming preparation.

Among other advantages of fuel cell power systems is low vibronoise allowing for reduction of industrial/transport/ neighbourhood noise of ship structures and enhancement of their durability.
Also, long maintenance free period (6–12 month) is an additional advantage for ship owners.

The key advantage of fuel cell technology is an ability to reequip ships of almost all classes (diesel-generators are replaced with electrochemical generators). Development of new designs does not require any considerable structural alterations.

As of today, there is no the only right and optimal combination of fuel cells and fuel storage systems. Complete rejection of liquid bunker in favor of electric energy is not planned. In view of permanently growing number of scientific publications (both Russian and foreign ones) representatives of the living generations are likely to see this transition.
Some projects are already prepared for commercial use, actually for large-scale offshore projects. Among them are cargo carriers. Russia has no ready technical solutions so far, even at the development stage. Innovative scientific solutions in the field of hydrogen energetics are cost-intensive, therefore they require subsidies. A comprehensive approach should be applied for introduction of new technologies to prevent price leaps when shifting to new types of power plants. It is also necessary to revise the existing regulatory documents and tax rates.

With the state support of re-equipping facilities (including vessels) with new sources of energy, the transition to ‘green’ fuel will be both economically efficient and prompt.

This is being successfully applied in advanced environment-conscious countries, first of all Japan. In the USA, installation of fuel cells on vessels is to begin in 2025.

Andrey Krulev


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