Tie-up aims to bring fuel cells to cruise ships

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 25 March 2019


A partnership between the US technology and energy specialist, GE Power Conversion and Netherlands-based Nedstack, a leading fuel cell manufacturer, will see the two organisations collaborating on developing hydrogen fuel cell systems for powering zero-emission cruise vessels.

This partnership brings together GE’s recognised expertise in cruise electrical power and propulsion solutions plus system integration capability, with Nedstack’s extensive experience in megawatt-scale hydrogen fuel cell technology. The two partners claim that the result will be highly efficient fuel cell solutions that enable a zero-emission cruise industry.

Shipowners are already under pressure to comply with the reduced sulphur limit regulations coming into force next year. Both IMO and regional regulations require vessels to reduce emissions or eliminate them altogether.

Nedstack and GE have designed a concept for a multi-megawatt hydrogen power plant for passenger vessels. The built-in redundancy and its scalability are promising. So far, Nedstack and GE have designed the concept for a two-megawatt hydrogen fuel cell power plant on an expedition vessel. The review result has been highly positive and plausible. The ultimate goal is a truly zero-emission system that will enable the world’s first sustainable, clean cruise ships.

The system would use Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cells which Nedstack has long experience in developing. Founded in 1999 as a spin-off of Akzo Nobel, Nedstack has been the first to scale PEM Fuel cell technology to the MWe and multi-MWe size level and is committed to pursue widespread deployment to enable the full potential of the hydrogen economy. GE’s variable speed electrical drive system is a crucial part of the system that optimises control and efficiency by directing and managing the electricity produced by the hydrogen fuel cells.

Frequently switching fuel cells on and off reduces their life expectancy – and this is a significant issue for vessels. To give some perspective, while a car’s fuel cell is expected to operate for 7,000 hours, for a ship it needs to go over 20,000 hours. Machine longevity is essential. To overcome this, GE’s variable drive, fuel cell system architecture and dedicated PMS are engineered to limit the switch on-and-off frequency of the fuel cells when sailing or in port. Indeed, optimizing the system and extending the fuel cells’ lifespan is key to coping with the five-year dry dock intervals that cruise ships demand.

“Ships are increasingly being required to shut down their engines in port. We’ve seen this in California, for example, and China has introduced an emission control area in the Yangtse delta. However, the trend is shifting from emissions reduction to total elimination. Achieving this will take deep expertise and innovation – and that’s precisely what this collaboration between GE and Nedstack will deliver,” said Azeez Mohammed, President and CEO, GE’s Power Conversion business.

“Existing clean power solutions are focused on reducing emissions. Eliminating emissions altogether demands a paradigm shift,” Arnoud van de Bree, CEO of Nedstack said. “Hence why GE and Nedstack have been working extensively on the ‘marinisation’ of fuel cell technology to create a total zero-emission alternative that truly meets the needs of tomorrow’s cruise industry.”

“We’re proud to be working with Nedstack on what we believe will be a game changer for the cruise industry,” said Ed Torres, CEO of Marine and O&G, GE’s Power Conversion business. “This partnership brings together a rich pool of expertise that’s spearheading much needed innovation. Given the marine transport and shipping sector’s changing regulatory landscape, this innovation could not be more timely.”

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