Fuel cell development for shipboard applications

Wärtsilä’s WFC20 fuel cell, as installed onboard the car carrier ‘Undine’ Wärtsilä’s WFC20 fuel cell, as installed onboard the car carrier ‘Undine’
Industry Database

Wärtsilä is among the developers of fuel cell technology for marine applications, with solid oxide fuel cells fuelled by methanol, writes Henrik Segercrantz.

The company announced earlier in 2011 that it has teamed up with Versa Power Systems (VPS), a developer of environmentally friendly, high-power solid oxide fuel cells (SOFC) with headquarters in Littleton, USA, in a co-operative agreement to develop and integrate Versa Power’s SOFC technology into Wärtsilä products.

A key target of the agreement is to develop commercial Wärtsilä fuel cell products that generate power and heat for various applications in the distributed energy and marine markets. The agreement allows Wärtsilä to integrate VPS fuel cell stack modules, especially for larger power range products. For VPS, the agreement provides a dedicated partner with the ability to commercialise fuel cell products in large global markets.

Fuel cells are electro-chemical devices that combine a fuel source gas with oxygen to produce electricity, heat, and water. The absence of combustion processes significantly reduces harmful emissions of NOx and SOx and particulate emissions are essentially zero. As electricity is generated directly and involves no intermediate mechanical or thermal processes, fuel cells can also be more efficient than conventional combustion-based technologies.

"VPS is leading the development of large SOFC stacks, and the company’s capabilities support Wärtsilä’s strategy of developing large SOFC systems for the distributed power and marine markets. The agreement with VPS strengthens Wärtsilä’s ability to provide its customers with clean and highly efficient power solutions. Demand is developing rapidly and the commercial potential for such products is very promising," says Erkko Fontell, director, fuel cells, Wärtsilä.

"Solid oxide fuel cells have low emissions, yet they produce relatively large amounts of electricity for their size," says Robert Stokes, CEO of Versa Power Systems. "Combining the expertise of our two companies will help meet the growing commercial demand for compact, high-efficiency products."

Wärtsilä has launched a number of successful pilot projects using fuel cell technology supplied by Topsoe Fuel Cell, headquartered in Denmark, and this co-operation will continue as planned. In 2008, Wärtsilä delivered a unique fuel cell unit that operates on landfill gas and produces electricity and heat for the city of Vaasa in Finland. In the summer of 2010, a WFC20 fuel cell unit was installed onboard the Undine, a car carrier owned by Sweden’s Wallenius Lines. Additionally, Wärtsilä has developed 50kW WFC50 power units for internal validation.

Wärtsilä notes that fuel cells are considered to be one of the most exciting energy technologies for the future. Power solutions based on fuel cell technology are expected to offer significant benefits in power generation applications as well as in the shipping industry, where international emission regulations are becoming increasingly stringent.

Wärtsilä is also involved in a 320kW fuel cell project onboard the supply ship Viking Lady, owned by Eidesvik Offshore, under a FellowSHIP joint industry research and development project also including Det Norske Veritas and MTU Onsite Energy, with the objective to develop and demonstrate hybrid fuel cell power packs, especially usable for marine and offshore use. The HotModule fuel cell, supplied by MTU Onsite Energy, is fully integrated in the existing on-board LNG fuelled power generation infrastructure, supplied by Wärtsilä, and supplies 320kW of the vessel's power supply. Wärtsilä has the overall responsibility for systems integration in the FellowSHIP project for which it has developed the power electronics, and the systems for regulating and distributing energy from the fuel cell to the electrical network.

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