Representatives of some of the key experts in the field of maritime fuel cell technology explained the operational challenges delaying the take up of the technology at our latest webinar
This was the fourth and final webinar in Riviera Maritime Media’s Maritime Hybrid, Electric and Fuel Cells Webinar Week, part of our ongoing webinar series.
The experts on the panel for the webinar were Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine chief executive officer and chief technical officer Joseph W Pratt, Ballard Power Systems Europe business development director Kristina Fløche Juelsgaard, and Prototech researcher Tjalve Magnusson Svendsen.
The webinar attracted attendees looking closely at fuel cells. In a poll, they were asked: How would you grade your organisation’s ability to take on new power technology like fuel cells? 13% rated their organisation as “we’re light years away” but over half were far more positive, and 26% said “we’re ready, willing and able.”
Dr Pratt, whose company is building North America’s first hydrogen fuel cell ferry Water-Go-Round, opened proceedings by highlighting one of the main challenges for the take up of maritime fuel cell technology – the availability of hydrogen. It was one of the most frequently asked questions: Where do I get the hydrogen from? The element of cost and availabilty was also the number one concern (68%) of attendees to the webinar when asked: “Which of the following do you see as the largest obstacle to adoption of H2?”
As liquid hydrogen is denser than gaseous hydrogen, availability of the liquid form took precedence in the discussion. Dr Pratt noted there are distinctive global clusters where liquid hydrogen is produced. “85% of the world’s liquid hydrogen production is in North America,” said Dr Pratt, “the liquid hydrogen infrastructure has been developed to support the space program.”
Mr Svendsen said Prototech has contributed to a number of space fuel cell projects and is currently involved in several maritime fuel cell projects. He noted the high costs associated with liquid hydrogen fuel cells is partly due to providing bunker systems. He compared the development of liquid hydrogen fuel cells for ships to that of LNG 20 years ago. “There were no bunkering facilities then,” he said, noting that today there were several strategically placed LNG bunkering facilities for ships.
Noting bunkering facilities’ potentially key role in driving down the cost of using liquid hydrogen fuel cells, Dr Pratt said “shipping adopting liquid hydrogen fuel cells would in itself create an entire ecosystem.” Regular large-scale usage by scheduled and tramp shipping would justify the localised production and storage of liquid hydrogen in the port, which would also support the hinterland’s vehicular and heavy goods traffic use of fuel cells.
That outcome would require an extensive support community for servicing and repair and in a poll, 30% of the attendees were concerned with “In service durability over the projected lifetime”. Ms Juelsgaard from Ballard, which is involved in a number of marine projects, was on hand to give insights into the servicing and repair challenges of fuel cells, noting that Ballard has 20 years’ experience in servicing and repairing hundreds of fuel cell buses. “The key,” she said, “ is a good service set-up with training, spare parts and repair facilities in the neighbourhood.”
In response to a question on repairs, the participants said there would be no attempt to repair a damaged fuel cell – the whole module would be swapped out. “It is plug and play,” said Ms Juelsgaard.
This also applied to the liquid hydrogen fuel storage arrangements on the vessels. If more compact systems become available, these can be replaced. “The fuel cell doesn’t care where the hydrogen came from,” said Dr Pratt.
To an extent, this was also the answer to the longevity of fuel cells. Mr Svendsen saw no reason why the current 30,000 hours could not become 50,000 hours. Ms Juelsgaard questioned if that would even be a factor. The shipowners Ballard are working with expressed a desire to see a longevity extend to that of the major overhauls, not the life of the vessel.
Dr Pratt said one of his key takeaways was that the technology is not the challenge, the challenge is to develop an entire liquid hydrogen ecosystem. Ms Juelsgaard agreed, adding that ecosystem would include a local liquid hydrogen facility in the port. Mr Svendsen’s takeaway was that technology would develop faster and the challenge for shipowners lay with those that ignore the progress. “The biggest risk-takers are those that do nothing at all,” he said.
You can view the webinar, in full, in our webinar library.
And you can sign up to attend upcoming webinars on our events page.
From left to right: Golden Gate Zero Emission Marine chief executive officer and chief technical officer Joseph W Pratt, Ballard Power Systems Europe business development director Kristina Fløche Juelsgaard, and Prototech researcher Tjalve Magnusson Svendsen