Freudenberg methanol-powered fuel cell system gets type approval

German battery technology company Freudenberg e-Power Systems has received type approval by Italian classification society RINA for the methanol-powered fuel cell system — the world’s first of its kind to become type approved.

Courtesy of Meyer Werft
Courtesy of Freudenberg

This means that the system can now be used on seagoing vessels, representing an important development step towards new maritime energy systems and climate-friendly shipping.

Converting commercially operated ships on the high seas to CO2-neutral drive systems is said to be a huge challenge. One important factor is the range requirement of the individual ship types. This must be as large as possible for cruise ships, tankers and container ships in order to be able to cover the long routes across the world’s oceans without stopping. Route flexibility and ranges of more than 5,000 nautical miles are basic requirements of the world’s maritime fleet.

Purely battery-electric solutions are often out of the question for these deep-sea applications due to their high weight and space requirements. Hydrogen as a direct energy storage medium is also ruled out for these ship types, as its low volumetric energy density would require it to be stored in huge hydrogen tanks in a cryogenic or highly compressed state. This is not a sustainable option for the maritime industry.

Nevertheless, fuel cells have tremendous advantages due to their high efficiency and low maintenance requirements. Therefore, it makes sense to chemically bind regeneratively produced hydrogen to achieve a significantly higher energy density. This will make fuel cells economically and practically viable for ocean-going shipping, according to Freudenberg.

The fuel cell system can be combined with Freudenberg e-Power Systems’ maritime battery systems to create particularly efficient hybrid solutions. In this context, the use of climate-neutral methanol represents a turning point on the road to maritime sustainability and the achievement of IMO emission reduction targets.

Methanol is a simple alcohol that is liquid under normal ambient conditions and has around three times the volumetric energy density of liquefied hydrogen. As an important raw material for the chemical industry, climate-neutral methanol is characterized by proven manufacturing processes as well as good availability.

Combination of reformer and high-performance fuel cell

Freudenberg e-Power Systems’ approach to using methanol for marine applications combines highly efficient fuel reforming technology with a long-life PEM fuel cell in a modular, scalable system unit. It generates hydrogen via steam reforming, which then reacts with oxygen from the air in the fuel cell to produce the electrical energy needed for both propulsion and the ship’s electrical system.

The heat required for the reformer can be obtained directly from the waste heat of the fuel cells. Fuel cell stack, reformer and control electronics as well as all components for media supply are located in a prefabricated, modular unit. This containment design facilitates easy installation on board.

The safety concept of this system architecture has now received type approval that confirms the safety of the system and its conformity with maritime standards and regulations.

“Achieving type approval represents an important milestone for the maritime industry. This lays the foundations for fuel cell systems to be used on a megawatt scale on cruise ships and the international ocean fleet. The marine energy systems of the future will be safe and highly efficient thanks to fuel cell technology,” Manfred Stefener, Managing Director of Freudenberg Fuel Cell e-Power Systems and responsible for the safety architecture, commented.

Standardised system design for all ship types

Freudenberg’s safety concept was already tested for maritime conformity in an early phase of the “Pa-X-ell 2” research project. For this purpose, it received approval in principle” from the classification society DNV GL.

In addition to the focus on the safety concept, the topics of modularisation and standardisation were considered in order to take account of the aspects of large-scale industrialization from the very beginning.

In the future, system units with a respective nominal output of 500 kW are to be combined into total capacities in the double-digit megawatt range.

The HyFleet research project launched in 2021 shows that the consistent design strategy with lifetime and efficiency as priorities is also well suited for other segments. Together with its project partners ZF Friedrichshafen and FlixBus, Freudenberg is working to replace conventional diesel drives in long-distance buses. Initial test results show that a service life of at least 35,000 hours can be achieved. This corresponds to a total service life of 1.2 million km for a truck.

In addition to Freudenberg, the project consortium focusing on passenger shipping includes partners Carnival Maritime (AIDA Cruises), Meyer Werft as well as Lürssen Werft, besecke, DLR, EPEA and the classification society DNV GL.

Meyer Werft: Next step to the climate-neutral ship

German shipbuilder is currently building the Silver Nova, which will be equipped with the world’s largest fuel cell system on a cruise ship. The ship will be able to run completely on this system in port without the help of combustion engines.

Courtesy of Meyer Werft

Meyer Werft and Freudenberg e-Power Systems are also working together on the Pa-X-ell2 research project, in which a fuel cell system is being retrofitted on board the AIDAnova.

The duo is also planning further cooperation in the future – not only on newbuildings but also on existing ships. To this end, Meyer Neptun Engineering is already developing complete retrofit solutions and will work even more closely with Freudenberg e-Power Systems in a joint office in the future to advance joint developments even faster.

“We are hereby achieving another important interim goal in our green shipping strategy. We have been researching and developing fuel cell technology for maritime use for more than 15 years and are now seeing the first successes. The 1300 engineers in our Global Design Team are already developing the climate-friendly ship prototypes of tomorrow,” Malte Poelmann, Chief Technology Officer of MEYER Group, said.

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Turning point towards maritime sustainability

The development of the fuel cell for shipping is an important building block for optimizing the overall ship system with its high efficiency and the integration of decentralised energy systems, according to Meyer Werft.

At the same time, the group is working on the use of new fuels. For example, the use of regeneratively produced fuels such as hydrogen, methanol and biogas is already possible today. In marine applications, it makes sense to chemically bind regeneratively produced hydrogen, which is necessary for the operation of a fuel cell, in order to achieve a significantly higher energy density. This makes the fuel cell economically and practically viable for ocean-going shipping.

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