Marine

ABB plans "megawatt-scale" hydrogen powertrains for container ships

ABB plans "megawatt-scale" hyd...
ABB and Hydrogene de France are teaming up to build enormous hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for large marine vessels
ABB and Hydrogene de France are teaming up to build enormous hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for large marine vessels
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ABB and Hydrogene de France are teaming up to build enormous hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for large marine vessels
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ABB and Hydrogene de France are teaming up to build enormous hydrogen fuel cell powertrains for large marine vessels

Swiss/Swedish manufacturing and automation behemoth ABB is teaming up with Hydrogène de France (HDF) with the intention of developing large-scale hydrogen fuel cell systems capable of powering zero-emissions electric container ships.

Hydrogen is very much back on the menu in 2020. While much of the automotive industry has shied away from it due to inherent difficulties with storage, transport and inefficient generation, the fact is it still offers around 10 times the energy density of a lithium battery, along with a refueling process that's much quicker than plugging into a charge point.

The shipping industry still runs pretty dirty with giant marine diesels, and has largely escaped the kind of heavy regulatory attention that the automotive sector has had to deal with. It's certainly a cheap and efficient way to get things across the globe in bulk, but it's still responsible for around 2.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. A single massive container ship, we reported more than a decade ago, can spew out as much air pollution as 50 million cars, so electrification can make a significant difference in this sector if done right.

It's going to take several generations of battery development to enable long-range electric shipping operations, but hydrogen stands ready to make a difference now – at least for short-range operations. Thus, this memorandum of understanding between electrification specialists ABB and grand-scale fuel cell production specialists HDF.

The new agreement will see the development of a "megawatt-scale" powertrain for marine vessels, using HDF's large scale manufacturing capabilities to get the thing built. The design will be done in conjunction with Ballard Power Systems, specialists in proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells.

A Triple-E class Maersk container ship capable of carrying more than 18,000 shipping containers currently makes around 60 megawatts of power, and gobbles a whopping 21,200 gallons (80,000 liters) of fuel a day. And these are among the cleanest and most efficient cargo ships on the planet. There is currently no indication of how big ABB plans to go with its first powertrains, but there is an indication that they might be able to build something for use in a hybrid arrangement on larger ships, where hydrogen could be used to "support auxiliary energy requirements of larger vessels."

Source: ABB

11 comments
riczero-b
They could also possibly be used as power plants for disaster areas.
martinwinlow
At last! A H2-based fuel cell application that actualy makes sense (probably). Combined with 'Wingsail' technolgy (with the 'sails' covered in thin film PV to boot), you could really have a practical - but ecologically sound - alternative to ocean traversing bunker-oil-fuelled cargo ships. Or we improve cross-continental rail services massively. But that's a *lot* of extra trains and the railways to carry them - and you are still stuck with a lot of trains running on diesel and at getting between continents where it's ships (or planes/rockets) or nothing.
JimFox
Encouraging, within its limitations. I believe the ultimate answer (in maybe 10 yrs) is Gen 4 Molten Salt reactors, fail-safe & economical, over their lifetime.
paul314
And there aren't a whole lot of ports where these behemoths dock, so the question of rolling out fueling intrastructure everywhere isn't a big deal. I wonder how much cargo capacity you would have to forgo to make long-distance travel feasible. Somehow with that prediction of $600 trillion in economic losses over the next 80 years, a few percent inefficiency doesn't seem like as big a deal.
alexD
"It's going to take several generations of battery development to enable long-range electric shipping operations," of course it will but if we never get it started, it will never fulfill the promises.
FB36
IMHO, using hydrogen as fuel for any kind of land/air/sea vehicle is extremely bad idea! Because any leak/rupture of a hydrogen fuel tank could easily cause a massive explosion (not just a fire)! Hydrogen is no ordinary fuel! & just imagine, if a container ship exploded like a giant bomb!
Kpar
Fears of a "hydrogen bomb" are not justified. H2 can be safely handled with known technology- as the H2indenberg Society has shown.

My complaint is that people keep thinking of H2 as a fuel- it is not. That said, H2 does not exist in a usable form on Planet Earth, it must be made via electricity or radiation, with the associated fuel costs and efficiency losses. H2 is only an energy storage system.
HSU will have its day again
Any program that is cost effective but not controlled and a monopolistic income earner for one of the cartels does not stand a chance.
This is evident from the 'on board, on demand' Hydrogen fuelling system used by Aeroflot for twelve years prior to the breakup of the USSR!!!!
This is the prime hindrance.
Ken Gage
Cool little article. But you don't have to say hydrogen energy has "difficulties with storage, transport and inefficient generation" unless you're a Big Oil guy, because that simply isn't true. Hydrogen generation through electrolysis is easy and more efficient than extracting crude oil and refining it.
HSU will have its day again
Any program that is cost effective but not controlled by a monopolistic income earner for one of the cartels does not stand a chance. This is evident from the 'on board, on demand' Hydrogen fuelling system used by Aeroflot for twelve years prior to the breakup of the USSR!!!! This is the prime hindrance.