Norway: New fuel cell project targets fuel flexibility, emission-free shipping ops

A new fuel cell project aimed at constructing a pilot system that can use different types of fuel was presented to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg by several companies on 1 October 2020.

The 1.2. MW prototype system will first be tested at the Sustainable Energy Catapult Centre in Stord, Norway. Then, it will be mounted and tested onboard one of Odfjell’s new chemical tankers.

Odfjell and Prototech present the fuel cell project to Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Photo: Sustainable Energy Catapult Centre

As informed, the main partners in the project are Norwegian shipping and tank terminal company Odfjell, Norway’s Prototech which has expertise in the fuel cell technology, Finnish technology group Wärtsilä and Lundin Energy Norway, an oil and gas exploration and production company.

According to the project partners, the new fuel cell technology can reduce emissions from shipping by 40 to 100 per cent. It enables the use of different types of fuel, including green ammonia and LNG. With this flexibility, vessels can choose fuel according to availability. 

“Our tests show a CO2 reduction of as much as 40-45% when using LNG, compared to current solutions. Increased efficiency and reduced fuel consumption also provide significant cost savings, and the ship will be able to sail significantly longer on the same amount of energy,” Bernt Skeie, CEO of Prototech, explained.

“The system will also be ready to operate completely emission-free from the locations where, for instance, ammonia is available for bunkering.”

Around 90 per cent of the world trade is transported by ships. Ship transport is still the most environmentally efficient way of carrying goods, but to achieve Norwegian shipping’s target of becoming climate neutral by 2050, new, energy-efficient solutions must be introduced.

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Specifically, the project aims to develop a technology that can provide emission-free operation over long distances. Battery solutions are currently not suitable for operating ships that sail long distances, the so-called “deep-sea” fleet. This fleet consists of more than 50,000 ships globally and thus constitutes a big share of international shipping. It is difficult to achieve the goal of climate neutrality without finding solutions for this segment.

The “unique feature” of the new technology is said to be its high energy efficiency and the flexibility that enables substantial emission reductions already from day one with the use of currently available infrastructure for LNG while also preparing for emission-free operation in line with the development of value chains and infrastructure for sustainable fuels in the years to come.

“Ships are to be operated for 20-30 years, and we need flexible solutions that can meet future emission requirements. We do not have time to wait, we have to think about zero emissions already now,” Erik Hjortland, VP Technology at Odfjell SE, said.

“The fuel cell project is one of the paths we are pursuing. We focus on machinery rather than focusing on one single type of fuel. Fuel cell technology gives us flexibility that ensures environmentally efficient operation regardless of fuel changes that may occur in the years ahead.” 

Illustration of the fuel cell solution mounted on board an Odfjell ship. Photo: Odfjell

 “The new energy solution has the potential to take us a big step closer to the goal of climate neutrality. Fuel flexibility will be a significant contribution to secure future solutions for new ships. And it does not stop with ships, this solution can also be used in offshore oil and gas operations,” Ingve Sørfonn, Technical Director in Wärtsilä, pointed out.

So far, the project has been funded with support from Gassnova, NFR, and the participants themselves.