Fuel-cell study testing seaport-application-practicability waters

Fuel cell technology may transcend ground-based mobility applications and equally find a home at seaports.

Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) has been conducting research examining whether or not, as I understand things, a floating, ports-based-barge, upon which hydrogen fuel cells are mounted, to be used to supply electricity to waiting and docked ocean-going vessels, has merit.

Crane_BridgeShip“The study evaluated a simple fuel cell strategy that consists of mounting a hydrogen-fueled proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell on a floating barge,” Sandia reported in its “Power for seaports may be the next job for hydrogen fuel cells” news release. “Supplying a container ship with average power and run times (1.4 megawatts over 48 hours) requires four 40-ft containers, two for the fuel cell and two for hydrogen fuel storage, which could readily fit on a typical flat-top barge. For ships requiring less power, such as tugboats, a single container housing both the fuel cell and hydrogen will suffice, according to the Sandia study.”

Data for the study was gathered from the west-coast ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Portland, Oregon; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; and in Honolulu, Hawaii, and “two U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration facilities,” according to Sandia via the release.

“Auxiliary power to docked ships, usually provided by on-board diesel engines, is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, accounting for one-third to one-half of the in-port emissions attributed to ocean-going vessels. According to a 2004 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, average daily emissions for a busy port could exceed the total emissions from nearly 500,000 vehicles.”

Since standard shore-supplied, grid-based, auxiliary power for docked ships doesn’t come cheaply – it can run anywhere between $5 million and $10 million and higher per port berth, according to Sandia’s Joe Pratt – the fuel-cell approach could provide a less expensive alternative.

Moreover, by ships tapping into grid-based, auxiliary shore-provided power, this in no way guarantees that electricity supplied this way will be emissions free. It would depend on how that electricity is generated. Vessel-based, hydrogen fuel-cell-generated energy may turn out to be not only a viable alternative, but one that is attractive as well.

“The hydrogen fuel cell barge bypasses the need for electrical infrastructure. The barge also has the capability of being moved from berth to berth as needed and to anchorage points to power vessels that are waiting for berths,” Sandia also expressed in the release.

Based on what I understand, I do not see what there is not to like about this water-based, emissions-free, energy-supply approach.

For more, see: “Power for seaports may be the next job for hydrogen fuel cells.”

– Alan Kandel

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