Research Trimaran to be Powered by Fuel Cell


Published Jul 2, 2018 7:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

A new research vessel for Scripps Institution of Oceanography will be powered by fuel cells fueled by liquid hydrogen that is produced using renewable energy. The Zero-V vessel design, developed in collaboration with Glosten and Sandia National Laboratories with funding from MARAD, has now received approval in principle from DNV GL.

Zero-V has a tank capacity of 11,000 kilograms (24,000 pounds) and is designed to operate at a speed of 10 knots over a 2,400 nautical mile range, with fuel available at four different ports of call along the U.S. West Coast.

Fuel cells can provide low noise operation, which contributes to the well-being of marine life and the integrity of acoustic measurements, as well as the comfort of those on board. The hydrogen fuel means that air samples can be taken without contamination from conventional engine emissions. The pure, deionized water generated by the fuel cells can also be captured and used for drinking water for the scientific staff and crew, or for experimental and analytical purposes, reducing the amount of water needed to be carried on board. As fuel cells are electrical devices, they also offer a faster power response than internal combustion engines.

One of the biggest additional benefits of using hydrogen is the absence of ecologically damaging fuel spills. According to Sandia chemist and project lead Lennie Klebanoff, it is impossible to have a polluting hydrogen spill on the water. More buoyant than helium, hydrogen rises on its own and eventually escapes into outer space.

The Zero-V project evolved from earlier Sandia work on the SF-BREEZE, a hydrogen-powered passenger ferry designed to operate in the San Francisco Bay. Small hydrogen-powered pleasure crafts made for very short distances already existed, but prior to the SF-BREEZE, there hadn’t been a project that looked at the technical as well as economic feasibility of powering large, fast commercial boats with hydrogen.

Joe Pratt, who led the SF-BREEZE project for Sandia, came to believe so strongly in hydrogen’s commercial potential that he took entrepreneurial leave from Sandia to start Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine. The company builds hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for the maritime market.

Whereas the SF-BREEZE requires refueling after 100 miles, the Zero-V needs to go at least 2,400 miles or 15 days before requiring a refuel; enough to get from San Diego to Hawaii. The Sandia team came up with a solution that allows liquid hydrogen suppliers to drive fuel trucks directly to the ship at ports of call. Thus, the Zero-V would require little investment in fueling infrastructure.

Glosten’s Sean Caughlan said finding a way to store the heavy hydrogen tanks while accommodating at least 18 scientists, 11 crew members and three laboratories was a challenge. Part of the solution was selecting a trimaran boat design. The design offers a lot of space above deck for the tanks and adequate below-deck space for other science instrumentation and machinery.

The team designed the Zero-V using proven, commercially available hydrogen technology. Once completed, the vessel design was reviewed by DNV GL and the U.S. Coast Guard. 

With a solid design in place, the next step for the Zero-V is finding the funding to build it. Compared to diesel-powered research vessels, the Zero-V has a similar capital cost, but would cost roughly seven percent more to operate and maintain. The development team hopes that building and operating the Zero-V will significantly advance U.S. marine transportation technology.