Science

Port of Honolulu is getting a giant fuel cell unit to power docked ships

Port of Honolulu is getting a ...
The unit will fit inside a shipping container, and could be towed around the port on a barge (Photo: Young Brothers Ltd.)
The unit will fit inside a shipping container, and could be towed around the port on a barge (Photo: Young Brothers Ltd.)
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The unit will fit inside a shipping container, and could be towed around the port on a barge (Photo: Young Brothers Ltd.)
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The unit will fit inside a shipping container, and could be towed around the port on a barge (Photo: Young Brothers Ltd.)

Shipping ports are major sources of air and water pollution, due in part to anchored or docked ships using diesel generators to keep their onboard systems powered up. A year from now, however, the Port of Honolulu will be trying out a mobile hydrogen fuel cell unit, as a more eco-friendly and fuel-saving alternative.

The unit will consist of four 30-kilowatt fuel cells, a hydrogen storage system and power conversion equipment, all housed inside a single 20-foot (6.1-m) shipping container that could be floated on a barge, parked on a dock, or otherwise taken where electrical power is needed.

It will be used in a six-month pilot project starting in early 2015, by shipping company Young Brothers Ltd.

"We compared the efficiencies of their diesel engines versus fuel cells, studied the energy efficiencies at various power levels and estimated the savings and reductions in emissions that would be realized if they were to convert to a fuel cell-powered operation," said Joe Pratt of Sandia National Laboratories, one of the partnering groups behind the project. According to Sandia's calculations, the fuel and energy savings should be significant, while the reduction in emissions should be particularly dramatic.

The fuel cell unit is being built by Hydrogenics Corp, while the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute will procure the hydrogen.

If it does indeed turn out to be a practical and affordable solution, other units may be trialled at other ports, with the ultimate goal of developing a commercial product that could be used in a variety of applications.

The US Department of Energy is also looking into replacing diesel generators with fuel cells, for running the refrigeration units in cold transport trailers.

Source: Sandia National Laboratories

10 comments
MQ
This can't be on the barge in the photo, as that white thing would have to be 200 feet long.
If the unit is a commercial success, and so small, it won't be long before they are used on ships (an other portable power units) as the main generator... Or maybe not. because keeping the fuel up to them may not be at all possible at sea (or in remote locations) due to the low energy density of hydrogen?? Likely it will be a greenwashed success not a commercial one.
BigGoofyGuy
IMO, fuel cells are the future. With what I have seen and read in the developement of fuel cells, it is becoming more practical to use for many modes of transportation and sources of power. I think fuel cells are way cool and very green.
moreover
The city of Hamburg just redeveloped its "Hafencity" (Harbour City), placing some impressive buildings right on the pier where big ocean liners dock. The exhaust from the ships turned out to be a big issue. No wonder, considering that ships burn sludge that barely resembles Diesel. They should look into this solution.
Dorsal Yadkin
Cold Ironing or Alternative Marine Power has always had the drawback of having to be in a fixed position to make the connection. Having a floating solution is interesting and, in spite of its high cost may be more economical than a powered grid which serves ships in dock as well as those off shore waiting to load or unload. In practice today many ship owners are refusing AMP because they are concerned the connection disconnection process will damage their vessels electronics. Also there is the issue of different power requirements and connections that must be addressed before large scale operations can begin. Given that one ship can produce more greenhouse gasses, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter than an entire city it is important to address these large unregulated pollution sources. If you live in Long Beach you know how this affects air quality.
Mark Yormark
How much CO2 is produced to make the hydrogen for the fuel cell in comparison to natural gas fired generators for the equivalent amount of kW hours produced?
Paul Bedichek
Presently H2 is produced by reforming natural gas and they just vent the CO2,but this fuel cell is an improvement because as many have mentioned the pollution of ships off the charts,one ship equals fifty million cars, as the Sulfur content of the bunker fuel they burn is big.Also a fuel cell is much more efficient than an ICE.Finally in the future FHR nuclear reactors could produce zero CO2 H2 by high temperature electrolysis or the Sulfur Iodine cycle from water.Faster work on the FHR!!
kamaaina
Currently Hawaii's electricity is the most costly in the nation, so it may make sense. I have 3 questions.
- How is the hydrogen made? The article didn't touch on it.
- Is it Hurricane resistant?
- If it ever gets slammed to the dock due to high surf or storms, or collide with a ship or a barge, how safe is the hydrogen cell?
Pat Pending
Am I missing something here? What is wrong with a shore power connection?
Perhaps it's just cheaper to burn crap fuel than invest in shore bassed infrastructure.
The harbours I've worked in would ask you to leave if you ran your onboard generators, the pollution would taint the G & T's, ah yes, money again.
Slowburn
The efficiency of fuel cells are great until you consider the energy required to generate the free hydrogen but it would also generate a trickle of fresh water.
Tim Riley
Can anyone give an energy consumption comparison involving the cost of producing petroleum, then to diesel + transporting it, vs. the H2 producing process?