A new generation of fuel cell being developed as part of a project led by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland could produce a cell that is ideally suited to use on ships using liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel. Fuel cells can be used to generate electricity using LNG and other products, such as methane. They convert energy stored chemically in a fuel into electricity through a reaction with oxygen. The process is similar to that in a battery, but with the important distinction that a fuel cell does not need to be recharged.
The solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) is being developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland under the INNO-SOFC project, in collaboration with Convion Ltd and Elcogen Ltd. Their aim is to develop a new-generation, long-life fuel cell system offering efficiency higher than that of competing technologies. The participants in the project say it will result in a more energy-efficient product.
“The new-generation fuel cells will definitely have potential for marine applications, especially in the case of LNG ships,” Olli Himanen, research team leader at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, told OSJ. Fuel cells have been extensively tested on a number of vessels, including offshore support vessels. In 2009, the platform supply vessel Viking Lady, which is owned by Eidesvik in Norway, was fitted with a molten carbonate fuel cell for tests. “Fuel cells provide electricity with high efficiency and with very low emissions. Vibrations and noise are minimal. These properties give them good potential for marine use,” Mr Himanen told OSJ.
So far, the adoption of fuel cells in marine and other applications has been hindered by their short service life and price. The partners in the INNO-SOFC project, which was launched in September and is funded by the EU and managed by VTT, are focusing on these issues and hope to double service life and halve the cost of fuel cells.
In collaboration with Elcogen, other European partners and Convion, VTT is developing a 50kW fuel cell that will have an efficiency of 60 per cent for electricity generation and a total efficiency of 85 per cent. Elcogen will deliver the core of the system, the fuel cells themselves. VTT is project coordinator, supporting the R&D programme and validating the service life of the cells.