ABB and Ballard have received an approval in principle (AiP) from DNV for their high-power maritime fuel cell concept. This solution will support the energy needs of a diverse range of vessels requiring multiple 3 MW blocks of power.

An AiP is a major milestone in developing new technology as an independent assessment of the concept, confirming that the design is feasible and no significant obstacles exist to prevent the concept from being realized. With the AiP in place, the jointly developed solution can be completed within the next couple of years for application on board a wide range of vessels.

The new fuel cells could allow a cruise vessel operating in coastal areas to either run entirely on fuel cell power or switch to it when operating in environmentally sensitive areas or emission control zones, while a ferry with a regular schedule and frequent bunkering opportunities could operate solely on fuel cell power. For ocean going vessels, fuel cell power could support auxiliary needs. The concept of the solution also envisions the integration with an energy storage system.

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‘ABB’s industry-leading experience in marine solutions and Ballard’s expertise in development and deployment of megawatt-scale fuel cell systems for land-based use has proven to be the right combination, enabling us to take the next step in our joint efforts to make this technology available for larger vessels,’ says Jesper Themsen, President and CEO of Ballard Power Systems Europe A/S. ‘Securing an AiP offers a signpost to the maritime industry regarding the potential of this truly transformative concept.’

Juha Koskela, Division President, ABB Marine & Ports, adds: ‘As we continue to pave the way towards decarbonising shipping, we are confident that vessel electrification, including fuel cell technology, will play a pivotal role in helping the marine industry achieve its environmental targets.’

Fuel cells for larger ships

The successful development of a high-power fuel cell system concept builds on a collaboration between ABB and Ballard, a provider of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell solutions, initiated in June 2018. As part of its strategy to develop alternative emission-free technologies, ABB is already well advanced in collaborative development of fuel cell systems for ships.

Considered among the most promising technologies available in terms of greenhouse gas reduction, zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells are already powering smaller vessels over short distances and the technology is on the verge of being ready for installation on larger ships.

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Fuel cells turn the chemical energy from hydrogen into electricity through an electrochemical reaction. When renewables are used to produce the hydrogen, the entire energy chain can be clean. Having a larger, megawatt-scale power unit makes it feasible to combine units to reach much higher total power than is practically possible with smaller power units.