Study: Hydrogen Fuel Cells Could Power Ships at Berth

Study: Hydrogen Fuel Cells Could Power Ships at Berth

Joe Pratt, Sandia National Laboratories’ researcher, stands near the Port of Oakland, one of the West Coast ports he studied to learn whether hydrogen fuel cells are a viable power source for docked ships. (Photo by Steffan Schulz).

Hydrogen fuel cells may be technically feasible and commercially attractive as a “clean, quiet and efficient” power source for ships at berth, replacing onboard diesel generators, according to a study by the Sandia National Laboratories.

The report, which was completed for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, evaluated a simple fuel cell strategy that consists of mounting a hydrogen-fueled proton exchange membrane fuel cell on a floating barge. It found that supplying a container ship with average power and run times of 1.4 megawatts over 48 hours requires four 40-foot containers — two for the fuel cell and two for hydrogen fuel storage, which could 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.

The approach, which would use electricity to supply a hydrogen fuel cell, could become a new form of “cold-ironing,” in which a vessel at berth connects to a source of electricity on the shore, the report said. It would lower emissions, cut costs and bypass the need for electrical infrastructure, since a barge can be moved from berth to berth as needed.

“In California, ports are already installing the necessary infrastructure for cold-ironing because of the regulations introduced a few years ago,” said Joe Pratt, a researcher with Sandia, in a written statement. “So hydrogen fuel cell auxiliary power has the opportunity for greater impact elsewhere.”