If a ship is anchored waiting in line to drop off goods, as a ship operator, you’ve only got one choice — run your engines to keep the refrigeration units going. But now hydrogen fuel cell generators have proven that they can be used in place of existing diesel generators to save energy and reduce smelly diesel emissions.

In Honolulu, HI, barges sail regularly to neighboring islands and normally diesel generators provide power for their refrigerated containers while on the dock and during transport. Switching to a hydrogen fuel cell power generator not only increases energy efficiency due to the fuel cell’s power load capability, but provides up to 30% emissions reductions as well.

In partnership with the Energy Department’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office (FCTO) and the U.S. Maritime Administration, a hydrogen fuel cell power generator for marine applications was designed, built, and demonstrated to verify increased energy efficiency and reduced emissions.  

fuel cells maritime november

The Project

Hydrogen fuel cells currently supply efficient, clean power for forklifts, emergency back-up systems, and vehicles. Based on DOE- funded innovations, costs of transportation fuel cells have been reduced by 60% and their durability has improved fourfold in the last decade. They can also provide clean power to serve the electrical demands of vessels in port as well as power yard trucks, forklifts, and refrigerated shipping containers.

A 100 kW generator with 72 kilograms of hydrogen storage was designed and built to supply power for up to 10 refrigerator containers at a time. This new design includes a 20-foot ISO standard shipping container and incorporates a proton exchange membrane fuel cell stack, power inverter, cooling system, hydrogen storage, system controller and data acquisition equipment. Safety and regulatory reviews were conducted by DOE’s Hydrogen Safety Panel, U.S. Coast Guard, and the American Bureau of Shipping.

Young Brothers Ltd. hosted and operated the generator powering refrigerated containers for 10 months. They discovered increased energy efficiency by up to 30% and reduced emissions to zero with hydrogen fuel cells. The findings of the project are detailed in a report by the Energy Department and Sandia National Laboratories.

The project met its goal to show reliable power generation that is more energy efficient than a diesel generator, and also reaps the benefit of eliminating air polluting emissions and dramatically reducing noise. 

maritime fuel cells november

What’s Next?

DOE’s FCTO plans to continue this project and collect data to help guide future early stage research. The team will soon test this system at another US port with operations testing planned for six to eight months. This test will focus on system durability, as well as its capacity to operate in any port. After, the completion of more operating evaluation, and any additional research as needed, private industry will take over and make fuel cells a commercial maritime power application.