News – Institute of Maritime Drive Systems

Fuel cell technology reduces ship emissions

Global shipping contributes significantly to the emission of climate-damaging greenhouse gases. There are also sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and soot particles. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has therefore lowered the limit values for ship emissions. Compared to 2008, the limit value for carbon dioxide emissions is to be reduced by 40 percent from 2030 and by 70 percent from 2050. This has a particular impact on cruise ships. Compared to cargo ships, they lie longer in a port during stopovers with shore leave. As a result, they also pollute the environment with soot and exhaust gases. In addition, there are often stricter emission regulations in ports than at sea.

The IKON Institute of Maritime Drive Systems is working – together with partners from industry and research – on a climate-friendly energy supply for ships based on a fuel cell system. This should provide electricity and heat on board.

The special thing about fuel cells is that they work with many different fuels – with hydrogen, natural gas, methanol or synthetic fuels. Existing energy systems can therefore also be converted step by step.

First of all, heavy oil engines are to be replaced by gas engines. This almost completely reduces the emission of soot particles. The new fuel cell system and conventional ship gensets with gas engines can then be operated at the same time, at least for a transitional period. The fuel cell system can use the same fuel as the gas engines. As a result, numerous components of the existing energy systems can continue to be used, which in many cases is more cost-effective and technically easier to implement.

Fuel cells can also be used for cargo ships and thus make a significant contribution to emission-free shipping.

In addition to fuel cells, batteries are used to buffer load peaks. The IKON Institute of Maritime Drive Systems is developing new concepts for coupling the electrical circuits with one another. The aim is to make the system as energy and space efficient as possible. With the fuel-flexible high-performance cells, electrical efficiencies of 85 percent can be achieved. The resulting waste heat is fed back into the energy system at another point. In this way, over 95 percent of the energy used can be used.

Real and digital test operation

The researchers will carry out simulations to test the developed systems and also take into account, for example, the “hotel operation” of a cruise ship. The generator system is checked as in a real integration on a ship. This includes the entire process chain, from the fuel tank to the electricity consumer. This means that the supply system can also be evaluated with a view to maritime safety, future regulations and the expected service life.


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