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If you live near a port, you have probably noticed that most ships at berth—especially passenger ships—keep their engines running to supply the onboard systems with the electricity they need to keep running. The pollution generated by ships at berth could soon become a thing of the past. Fuel cells have the potential to deliver all of the electricity a cruise ship needs at berth, minus the noise and fine particle emissions.
In 2022, for the first time ever, a cruise ship will be equipped with a solid oxide fuel cell. The 50 kW prototype was designed by Liten, a CEA Tech institute. Liten had previously field-tested a reversible electrolysis system with partner Sylfen, but this will be the first SOFC to be implemented outside of the lab.
SOFC technology, which operates at high temperature, was chosen mainly because the fuel cells can be powered by different fuel types (methane, methanol, ammonia, hydrogen, etc.). So, the solution could potentially be suitable for the more environmentally-friendly fuels that will be used to power ships in the future. Specifically, the SOFC that will be tested here will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) until these greener fuels are available. The technology was also chosen for its yields, which are better than those of conventional combustion engines (the target yield is 60%), and because it can also produce heat, which can then be used in a variety of ways on board (such as to produce hot water).
If the technology used LNG to produce all of the electricity needed on board the ship, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 30% compared to conventional LNG-powered engines. In addition, the fuel cell does not generate any nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxide, or fine particle emissions. To reach this target, Liten is gearing up for the next step, which is to develop high-power (more than a MW) systems.
*The PACBOAT project consortium: CEA, Chantiers de l'Atlantique, Entrepose Group, Bureau Veritas
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.