Royal Caribbean to Test Fuel Cell on High-End Newbuild

File image courtesy Ballard Power Systems

Published Nov 8, 2017 7:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

Canadian technology firm Ballard Power Systems has delivered the world's first fuel cell power supply for a luxury cruise ship. ABB will integrate the fuel cell module into the electrical system on one of Royal Caribbean's new Icon-class vessels, along with all control, converter and transformer equipment. The 100-kilowatt (130 horsepower-equivalent) device will be used to take up the vessel's hotel load during port calls, with a longer-term goal of evaluating its suitability for main propulsion applications. 

The fuel cell has already been delivered, and before it is installed on board a newbuild, RCL is using it as a demonstration model at company events. It is currently providing onsite power for "Sea Beyond," an RCL event in Brooklyn's Navy Yard this Wednesday and Thursday.

“Our goal is to take the smoke out of the smokestacks,” said Harri Kulovaara, EVP of maritime and newbuilding for Royal Caribbean Cruises. “We are dedicated to innovation, continuous improvement, and environmental responsibility, and using fuel cell technology gives us the opportunity to deliver against all three of these pillars.”

Competitor Viking Cruises has announced plans to build a 900-passenger vessel with hydrogen fuel cells for main propulsion. Several bunkering vessels to carry the fuel to the cruise ship are also part of Viking's project, and the line is working with Statoil to find a local fuel supply solution based at a Norwegian refinery. It will be the first cruise ship to operate on liquid hydrogen, but not the first vessel to run on the fuel: several hydrogen-powered inland tour boats have been in use in Europe for some time. 

Fuel cells generate energy by exploiting an electrochemical reaction at the interface between the anode or cathode and the electrolyte membrane. They involve no combustion, converting hydrogen fuel directly to electricity and heat. Their theoretical efficiency in turning chemical energy into usable power is in the range of 80 percent, potentially exceeding the 50 percent real-world efficiency of advanced large-bore diesels.

95 percent of the world’s hydrogen supply is currently produced by steam reformation of natural gas, oil or coal, though renewable alternatives are possible. A recent study by Sandia National Laboratories found that a hydrogen-fueled vessel’s operating cost and net CO2 emissions would vary depending upon the manner in which the hydrogen is produced. 

Ballard's fuel cells have previously been deployed in hydrogen-powered buses, which have logged over six million miles in service, with exceptional uptime. They are available in power levels ranging from 30kW (for small buses) to 200kW (for light rail and marine applications).