Robert Allan to design methanol fuel cell tug for Maersk and Svitzer

Written by Nick Blenkey
Svitzer global COO Ingrid Uppelschoten Snelderwaard and Robert Allan Ltd. president, Mike Fitzpatrick

Svitzer global COO Ingrid Uppelschoten Snelderwaard and Robert Allan Ltd. president, Mike Fitzpatrick

Maersk group towing operator Svitzer has reached an agreement that will see Vancouver, B.C., based naval architecture firm Robert Allan Ltd., to design the world’s first harbor tug to be powered by a fuel cell running on green methanol. The project builds on close cooperation between Svitzer and Maersk to jointly explore the combination of methanol fuel cells, batteries, storage/handling systems, electric drives and propulsion units as a carbon neutral alternative to the conventional fossil fueled propulsion train.

Svitzer and Maersk are working closely together on technologies that support the overall Maersk decarbonization effort. The objective is to apply knowledge and operational experience of methanol gained from the near shore small-scale tug to larger ocean-going container vessels.

“Fuel cells will be applicable as main propulsion power for tugs earlier than for larger vessels and further, the time to build a tug is significantly less than for a container vessel,” said Svitzer global COO Ingrid Uppelschoten Snelderwaard. “Svitzer will obtain valuable knowledge and operational experience handling fuel cells as an alternative to diesel or pure electric power. We consider this project a significant step in Svitzer’s ambition to lead the decarbonization of towage and an important contribution to the joint efforts to develop solutions with a positive impact on the environment.”


“Fuel cell technology could be a disruptor in the maritime technology space, promising high efficiencies and eliminating the need for substantial amounts of pilot ignition fuels while removing harmful emissions,” said Ole Graa Jakobsen, Maersk’s head of fleet technology. “Thus, we have been monitoring the technology for the last few years, and with the accelerating developments in the ‘Power-to-X’ arena, it has become evident that we should step up our engagement in fuel cells, especially in combination with Green Methanol.”

The 80 tons bollard pull newbuild tug with escort notation will feature a hybrid electrical propulsion system solution where fuel cells can be dimensioned to deliver a specific amount of sustained bollard pull using fuel cells alone, adding additional power from the batteries during the short, but often frequent, peaks that characterize towage. The fuel cells can be used to charge the batteries when the tug is mobilizing and when the tug is berthed, minimizing the need for expensive shore side charging facilities. The combination of fuels cells and batteries will deliver a self-sustained tug with longer endurance and with less operational constraints than a pure battery powered vessel.

“Robert Allan Ltd. is very excited to be working with Svitzer on the development of this new tug design,” said Jim Hyslop, director of project development, Robert Allan Ltd. “It is refreshing to work with an operator with such a progressive and forward-thinking attitude and this move towards drastically reducing tug emissions is a bold step. By taking the lead with this technologically advanced project, Svitzer and Maersk are making true and meaningful progress towards a greener future in the tug industry. Robert Allan Ltd. is proud to be a part of this team and we look forward to the challenges and opportunities that this innovative vessel will bring.”

The fuel cell tug will function as a pilot design for future Svitzer newbuilds and is planned to be put into operation within the Svitzer Europe region by first quarter 2024.

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