German Consortium Takes Aim at Fuel Cell Power for Ships

Prototype solid oxide fuel cell unit for thyssenkrupp (Sunfire, 2015)

Published Aug 12, 2019 8:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

German industrial conglomerate thyssenkrupp and a consortium of partners are working on a shipboard fuel cell that can run on either diesel or natural gas. The partnership - known by its project acronym, MultiSchIBZ - aims to develop and demonstrate a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) suitable for maritime use by 2020-2022. 

Solid oxide fuel cells operate at high temperatures without the use of a catalyst, and they are able to efficiently convert hydrogen or carbon-based gaseous fuels into electrical power. Shoreside fuel cell manufactuer Altrex Energy has sold more than 600 natural gas or propane-powered SOFCs for remote power generation, and it recently demonstrated a solid oxide fuel cell generator for the Department of Defense that can run on jet fuel. Sunfire, one of the consortium partners in the MultiSchIBZ project, makes a trailerized SOFC power generator and is planning to market a similar unit for home use. 

If successful, shipboard SOFC power is expected to reduce emissions by 99 percent for nitrogen oxides, 99 percent for particulate matter and about 25 percent for carbon dioxide when compared to conventional marine diesel engines. The SOFC technology that the team has developed so far is still at the laboratory stage, according to project partner Oel-Waerme-Institut (OWI). One of the main challenges is to implement it in a system that can be used practically aboard vessels. In addition, since the objective is to create a technology with wide application rather than a single prototype, the team will have to come up with uniform technical standards for multiple system variants and performance classes. 

The project's objectives also include: improving fuel cell efficiency by 50 percent; proving functionality in continuous use; examining the legal questions surrounding its use in ships; and preparing a pilot application. The initial design is oriented towards relatively small-scale power systems for passenger vessels.

The long list of project partners for MultiShIBZ includes thyssenkrupp (formerly ThyssenKrupp), the Oel-Waerme-Institut, DNV GL, SOFC manufacturer Sunfire and Leibniz University. The project is supported by Germany's Federal Ministry of Transport and the National Organization for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology.