Last year, Members of the European Parliament voted in favor of ships cutting greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions by 2 percent by 2025, 20 percent by 2035, and 80 percent by 2050, compared to 2020. Following this decision, the International Maritime Organization member states proposed even stricter standards for reducing GHG emissions in the maritime sector, calling for full decarbonization by 2050.
Because of these new stricter emissions standards, thousands of container vessels, yachts, and ferry operators worldwide with ships weighing above 5,000 gross tons will need to replace their heavy fuel oil and diesel generator drive solutions in the coming years. Fortunately, there is an innovative application that represents the first concrete step in generating carbon-neutral power from green fuels like eMethanol and bio-methanol and represents a significant step towards net zero for the entire maritime industry.
In 2021 Siemens Energy began working with customers to develop solutions to reduce the environmental impact of ships. The first stage involved using methanol fuel cell systems – a technology unavailable in the maritime market then – to generate electricity on board. The aim was to create a net-zero GHG emission system compatible with the limited footprint in a marine environment.
Less than two years later, this technology is now available due to the joint efforts of Siemens Energy and the fuel cell supplier, Advent Technologies Holdings, Inc (“Advent Technologies"). The European Commission is funding a current project because of its potential to create a sustainable solution to decarbonize the maritime sector. The project involves integrating the combined reformer/fuel cell modules into the power supply system for hotel functions on yachts and is proceeding as expected. The testing phase of the first reformer/fuel cell modules has begun, and the complete system will be installed on board a superyacht next year.
The project will use Advent Technologies’ methanol-powered fuel cells – a sustainable and reliable auxiliary power source with improved power density. This marine fuel cell solution will be used as a hybrid (diesel engine combined with fuel cells) power source, enabling clean electricity generation compared to full conventional diesel engines and generators.
Methanol, which is biodegradable, enables excellent properties for hydrogen storage. The volumetric energy density of methanol is four times higher than that of compressed hydrogen at 700 bar and two times higher than that of liquid hydrogen. As a result, precautions and energy losses because of low temperatures and high pressures are non-existent. Savings are realized in space, time, money, and energy. In addition, methanol has very similar physical properties at ambient conditions as diesel, it is easy to handle, and operators can use existing fuel infrastructure.
Green hydrogen is a versatile energy carrier that can be applied to decarbonize a wide range of sectors. It can be used directly or in derivatives like eMethanol, eAmmonia, or eFuels to replace fossil fuels, coal, or gas. For green hydrogen production, Siemens Energy is supporting the shipping industry to assess and boost the use of green fuels using PEM technology. In addition, Siemens Energy’s Silyzer is ideal for harnessing volatile energy from wind and solar to generate green hydrogen.
The future goal is to operate a superyacht powered solely by green methanol. Thus, the power generation needed for a yacht to sail at maximum speed would no longer be tied to diesel engines but instead, be based on a combination of fuel cells and internal combustion engines powered by green methanol.
Siemens Energy began offering hybrid solutions in 2008 and has delivered more than 40 ships equipped with its BlueDrive solution. In addition, the technology is continuously improving in the company’s research centers in Italy, Germany, and Norway. The technology is ideal for compact ships because it offers maximum efficiency, minimum emissions and noise, and digital operation in a small footprint. In addition, it is easily combined with alternative energy sources such as batteries, solar and fuel cells and complies with stringent environmental regulations.
What is next?
After completing this project, Siemens Energy plans to develop similar solutions with Advent Technologies for a broader range of business applications beyond maritime, such as industrial power solutions. The technology roadmap to increase the current nominal value of produced electricity for each fuel cell module ten-fold will allow the use of fuel cell solutions as a primary electricity source for propulsion systems throughout the maritime sector – e.g., for yachting, ferries, government vessels, sightseeing vessels, workboats, offshore supply vessels, and fishing boats.
Dr. Vasilis Gregoriou, Chairman and CEO of Advent Technologies, concludes: “There is an increasing consensus in the market that high-temperature proton exchange membrane (HT-PEM) technology is highly suitable for maritime applications, owing to its compatibility with methanol and other eFuels. The significant interest that our HT-PEM Serene fuel cells have received from the maritime industry over the past several months is encouraging and reinforces our potential to contribute to the industry's goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”