Marine Log

December 5, 2006

Wartsila-led consortium researches fuel cells

A research consortium coordinated by Wartsila is to receive a EUR 1.0 million grant from the European Union to develop the use of methanol-consuming fuel cells to provide electrical power to marine vessels.

The project is entitled "Validation of a Renewable Methanol Based Auxiliary Power System for Commercial Vessels" (METHAPU). The entire project costs EUR 1.9 million.

The main purpose of the project is to develop and validate renewable-fuel-based technology on board a cargo vessel involved in international trade. Wartsila's task in the project is to study the suitability of a methanol-based fuel cell system on board the cargo vessel.

Another important aim of the project is to lay the technical groundwork to support the introduction of the regulations necessary to allowing the use of methanol as a marine fuel.

The specific components of the technology to be validated are methanol fuel bunkering, distribution, storage system and a solid oxide fuel cell system that consumes methanol.

The consortium is made up of world-class players in the field of fuel cell system integration, sustainable shipping, classification work and environmental assessment.

The consortium's research will deal with the SOFC unit of 250 kW -class and the focus is on marine application issues, as well as the unit's safety and reliability aspects.

For marine validation purposes a smaller 20 kW unit will be installed on board a Wallenius Marine carcarrier. The 20 kW unit will be factory-tested, laboratory-tested and approved before installation. The installation will also be approved before the unit and its carrying vessel begin to sail on world trade routes.

A lifecycle assessment and an operational safety assessment will be made.

The results of the validation run and the tests will contribute to the second and final part of the research--the marine-compatibility of the 250 kW unit, its safety and reliability.

The project will take two and a half years, one year of which is dedicated to the application's validation.

The regulations and technical requirements for using methanol as a marine fuel will pave the way for the commercial use of methanol-consuming fuel cells on board commercial vessels. This research project also serves as a springboard for future research related to sustainable society; specifically, new greener marine power sources and a methanol-based economy.

"We are very happy to have been selected for the EU grant. The construction and operation of this research unit running on renewable methanol will open up attractive opportunities for using sustainable fuels for fuel-cell-based distributed generation and auxiliary power units in large ships. In particular, this is an interesting option for reducing ship emissions when harboring," says Erkko Fontell, General Manager, Fuel Cells, at Wartsila.

"Operation of the unit will also provide us with very important experience related to both the system's design and its performance parameters such as electrical efficiency and stack durability," he adds.

The consortium includes Wartsila Corporation, Lloyd's Register, Wallenius Marine, the University of Genoa and Det Norske Veritas AS.