By some estimates, a single container ship can cause as much pollution as 50 million cars on the road. That is because until recently, these ships have been largely unregulated. But new emissions laws mean the shipping industry has to clean up its act, and some companies are looking to hydrogen fuel cells to lower their environmental impact.
Sustainable Shipping For The Future
Several recent presentations and papers have looked at the practical applications for hydrogen fuel cells on ships,including a system that would provide 10 straight operating days of fuel and 5 megawatts of power, enough to turn two huge propeller blades. Another plan calls for a 1,500 passenger ferry that can also hold 2,200 meters of automobiles, with enough hydrogen storage for 48 hours of continuous use with zero emissions.
New guidelines are targeting sulfer-emissions in particular, as the heavy oil used by many larger ships is cheap but incredibly noxious. It has gotten so bad that states like California are forcing ships to take alternate routes or to travel slower, in order to limit emissions that have a severe impact on air quality.
High-Tech, Old School, And Everything In-Between
This has lead to the development of “green bunker fuels” that lower emissions by as much as 15%. These regulations have also encourage more radical designers that include ship-mounted solar panels, round-nose freighters, and kite-like flying sails. Some of these systems have already been installed, including a hydrogen fuel cell installed on the off-shore supply ship Viking Lady, which has operated with up to 55% electric efficiency for more than 7,000 hours.
Hydrogen-powered boats probably stand a pretty good chance of actually working, especially if any of the many large offshore wind farms planned come to fruition. Separate papers have analyzed the ability of these wind farms to produce liquid hydrogen fuel from the electricity they are unable to pump into the grid. This could help shipping companies become almost entirely carbon neutral, and the cheap hydrogen fuel could help offset the cost of developing and installing these systems. It could also help bring hydrogen fuel cells to the car market en masse, especially with the recent resurgence of interest in fuel cell technology.
Hydrogen-powered freighters could start hitting the high seas between 2020 and 2030; until then though, the shipping industry has a long way to go.
Source: Green Car Congress