ABB and SINTEF test fuel cells for main propulsion potential

Switzerland’s ABB and Norway’s SINTEF Ocean are undertaking research to test the viability of fuel cells as an energy source for main ship propulsion.

The new research project seeks to provide the answers required for fuel cell technology to be delivered at the scale needed to power commercial and passenger ships.

The testing methodology, to be developed at SINTEF Ocean’s Trondheim-based laboratory, will use two 30kW fuel cells, set up to model the operation and control of a complete marine power system in a megawatt-scale propulsion plant.

ABB’s own software together with SINTEF Ocean’s vessel simulator capabilities will imitate and play back different load profiles and diesel/battery/fuel cell combinations and test these in a scaled down laboratory environment.

Another key objective will be establishing how to enhance the control of fuel cell plant in combination with energy storage, and how to optimise efficiency, reliability, and the lifetime of fuel cell stacks.

Using hydrogen as fuel, the proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells separate electrons and protons, with protons passing through and electrons used as electrical output. Hydrogen is converted directly to electricity and heat without combustion.

PEM fuel cells operate at a lower temperature, are lighter, and more compact than their solid oxide counterparts.

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