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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Testing a fuel cell on a ship

Feb 21, 2012

Viking Lady

The financial crisis is not putting a stop to the world’s first ship with a fuel cell. The testing of this technology, which may halve the climate emissions from shipping, starts in a couple of months.

A rather unusual offshore supply ship is being built at the Westcon shipyard in Norway. The gas-driven supply ship, which belongs to the Eidesvik shipping company, will be the test centre for the world’s first fuel cell on board a merchant vessel.

The Viking Lady will be this pioneering shipowner’s third supply ship to be run on LNG. This gas will also be the fuel for the 320 kW fuel cell. This is in principle sufficient to act as an auxiliary engine to ensure a power supply on board, but not enough for propulsion.

The first step Fuel cells in ships may lead to an environmental revolution in shipping. The Norwegian-German Fellowship project is, however, just the beginning. Following the hopefully successful demonstration will be more developments on reducing cost and physical volume and increasing lifetime and reliability. The fuel cell on the Viking Lady is being built in addition to a normal auxiliary engine, but will be connected to the systems on board so that it can provide a small contribution to the operations.

However, the most important thing will be to conduct research and gain experience so that fuel cells have a future in shipping.

"A huge amount of work remains to be done. But owing to high efficiency and clean emissions, I am convinced that fuel cells are the way of the future; onshore, offshore and onboard ships," says DNV’s project manager Tomas H. Tronstad.

Challenges at sea 
The fuel cell being tested on the Viking Lady has been developed by Germany’s MTU Onsite Energy.

More than 50 fuel cells of the same type are used as back-up power generators on shore, for instance in hospitals and universities. But it is one thing to stand firmly and quietly on land and quite another to place the sensitive technology on a ship that rolls and pitches in the waves and in a tough, salty climate.

"One of the biggest challenges is to ‘marinefy’ the technology and to integrate the fuel cell with the traditional machinery-, control- and electro systems," says Mr Tronstad.

In the German-Norwegian project, the fuel cell, all the equipment and the ship will be adapted and modified. Many companies and partners are providing technology and equipment.

Ship-design company Vik-Sandvik is designing and adapting the ship and equipment location, while Wärtsilä Norway has put together a package of electrical and control systems that are being built in a separate container. DNV has examined the safety and risk aspects and prepared classification rules.

In such a pioneering project, the importance of class is highlighted when it comes to safeguarding the interfaces between the various machinery disciplines.

Tests on shore 
The next milestone is testing parts of the equipment on shore at Wärtsilä’s facility at Stord in Norway. The fuel cell itself will be in another, larger container, which is almost finished.

The actual heart of the engine, its core, has not arrived in Norway yet, but it will do so in a few months.

"The timetable is being kept. The first equipment testing started on shore in April," states Mr Tronstad.

Eidesvik took delivery of the ship in March and will start to lift components on board later this summer.

"The goal is to start testing in the sea in September. Everything is on schedule," says project developer Kjell Sandaker of Eidesvik.

Monetary challenges This has not been the case all the time. Project manager Mr Tronstad had to go around ministries and government bodies many times to obtain the public grants for this development project in 2006.

Following a cautious start in 2003, there was a need for almost NOK 100 million to get to the next phase. That meant that around NOK 50 million was required from public funds. Not an easy amount to obtain from those sources.

In total the project budget is NOK 115 million over six years, with roughly 45% funding from the Research Council of Norway, Innovation Norway and German state funding. The remaining 55% is covered by the private partners .


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