Samsung Designs Solid Oxide Fuel Cell-Powered Tanker

Courtesy Bloom Energy

Published Sep 25, 2019 8:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Samsung Heavy Industries announced Wednesday that it is designing what could be the first large merchant ship powered by fuel cells that run on natural gas. Together with Bloom Energy, an established manufacturer of solid oxide fuel cells, SHI has received approval in principle from DNV GL to move forward with a fuel cell-powered ship design for an Aframax crude oil tanker.

“As regulations to reduce GHG emissions take effect step-by-step, the introduction of fuel cells to vessels is inevitable. This approval, and being the first shipbuilder to secure this marine fuel cell technology, illustrates that Samsung Heavy is highly likely to lead the market,” said Kyunghee Kim, vice president of SHI's outfitting engineering team.

The new design features both conventional engines and Bloom Energy's fuel cells, all powered by LNG, according to DNV GL. If the project's backers are successful, the innovation could go a long way towards meeting the IMO's climate goal of a 50 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2050: Bloom Energy and SHI believe that replacing oil-based power generation on large cargo ships with LNG-powered fuel cells could reduce shipping's annual greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent. For future improvements, Bloom's fuel cells - "Energy Servers" - can also run on biogas or on hydrogen, which could further reduce their carbon footprint. 

The technology has an additional, immediate benefit in that it virtually eliminates local health-related emissions like NOx, SOx and particulate matter. Its fuel cells generate power through an electrochemical reaction, which means that no combustion occurs. 

Bloom's VP of strategic market development, Preeti Pande, adds that the Energy Server power units are modular and can be placed about the ship in a space-maximizing arrangement. Because of their modularity, they can also be easily maintained. They have a normal lifespan of about five years, and when it is time for an overhaul, service crews can replace the main components - individual "stacks" of cells - without taking the entire unit offline.