Reducing levels of emissions is now an important target in all sectors of society, with the shipping sector no exception. Although designers have ideas and initial concepts, development of a zero-emissions vessel – and its technical realization – still have a long way to go.
– Over the last four to five years we have been developing our vision of an environmentally sound vessel for the future, says Per Croner, President of Wallenius Marine AB in Stockholm. – Our concept is an emission-free construction based on hybrid solutions and driven by solar, wind and wave energy, and probably also by fuel cells running on biofuels or – at a later date – hydrogen produced from sea water.
Creating demand for new technology
Wallenius Lines is a leading company in the global maritime transport, terminal services and customer-oriented logistics services sector. Through cooperative partnerships, the company operates a total of about 180 vessels, with 35 of the ships in its fleet being wholly-owned. Wallenius Marine manages the fleet’s operations.
– Our vision of a vessel for the future exists both on the drawing board and in models. Now we’re working out a road map and a realistic timetable. Could we start using emissions-free vessels by 2050 – or perhaps earlier? And if that turns out to be the final timetable, what are technical milestones for 2020, 2030 and 2040, says Croner.
– We know that we were the first marine transportation company to start work on realizing this vision. Our main task at this stage is to create the demand for technology and equipment in this field. Working alone, a single shipping company can have only a minimal effect on the market as a whole, but we’ve already seen that a number of other companies are following our lead. That’s how the demand for new technology is created.
Fuel cell performance being tested
According to Croner, the Wallenius vision – a vessel that generates no emissions of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide – can be achieved by using electric motors to drive propellers or other propulsion equipment. The electrical power required is generated using renewable energy sources such as solar, wind or wave energy. Rather than employing a combustion engine to complement these renewable energy sources, the preferred choice is a fuel-cell solution that generates only heat and steam – no undesirable emissions.
– Fuel cell technology is still expensive and not yet in commercial use, says Croner. – But fuel cells are being tested in power plant applications and prices will fall as demand grows. They could be a rapidly growing technological sector in 10 years or so.
New fuel cell technology being tested on the «Undine» employs methanol as the fuel for energy production. To generate electricity, a solid oxide fuel cell requires oxygen, hydrogen and carbon monoxide (CO). The first step in the process is to reform the fuel that has been selected for the process into a mixture of hydrogen, CO and steam. Once the reforming process has been mastered, a variety of different fuels can be used. One goal for the future is to use tested in power biofuels, thus switching to a renewable energy source with zero lifecycle emissions.
Methanol, LNG and biogas all possible fuels
– We don’t yet know which fuel we will be using when the process is scaled up: methanol, liquefied natural gas (LNG) or biogas, says Croner. – Reforming technology is not our area of expertise – for this we rely on Wärtsilä, our fuel cell supplier.
The fuel cell to be installed by the end of this year is a small device with a capacity of 20 kW, half way between a laboratory setup and a pilot installation. During the test period, both the fuel cell and its associated fuel tank will be located in containers placed on the vessel’s deck, making them easy to remove after the tests have been completed.
– The amount of power we can generate from one of today’s fuel cells is not very great, says Croner. – The next step could be a fuel cell with a capacity of 250 kW. This would cover half the vessel’s electrical power demand when she is in harbour.
A lack of legislation on methanol
Testing of a marine fuel cell that one day could run on biofuels is part of METHAPHU (Methanol Power Unit), an EU project being chaired by Wärtsilä . In addition to Wallenius Marine, co-operating partners include Lloyd’s Register, the University of Genoa and Det Norske Veritas.
– Lloyd’s is investigating the risks associated with the new technology and carrying out an assessment with a view to classification, says Croner. – Right now, for example, there is no legislation regarding the use of methanol as fuel onboard a vessel. Once approved, methanol would be a fuel that is abundantly available all over the world.
As shipping technology develops towards being an emissions-free method of transportation, the use of fuel cells on a large scale is still a long way off. Immediate action is however required. Explaining the Wallenius Marine road map, Croner says that emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) should be reduced by 30% by 2013. – The easiest way of doing this is to reduce the speed at which vessels travel – something that’s quite possible when activity in the transportation market is running at reduced levels. The current recession makes this much easier.
Competition-neutral legislation required
– Running marine diesel engines on natural gas would solve at least some of the problems – doing this would remove the sulphur dioxide and most emissions of nitrogen oxides, says Croner. – And our cooperation with Wärtsilä includes the use of LNG in diesel engines.
At a later date, when biogas becomes available, the switch from LNG to biogas is only a minor change. But taken together, the technological shift required to change fuels is a major one, with some 10 years needed to complete it.
– The only way of reducing emissions of sulphur dioxide by vessels is to force shipping companies to change the technology they use, says Croner. – Legislation should not only be introduced in the north of Europe, competition-neutral legislation is needed that covers the whole of the European Union. The IMO’s demand for an upper limit on sulphur emissions of 0.1% by 2015 is a good initiative.