In connection with the UN Climate Change Conference COP15 in Copenhagen, the world's first merchant ship equipped with fuel cells is visiting the Port of Copenhagen, writes professional journal Ingeniøren (The Engineer). The purpose of the 320 kW fuel cell is not to provide the propulsion – that is provided by diesel-natural gas hybrid power plants – but to cover all the other energy needs of the ship. And this means that when the vessel is in port, it does not pollute the local area with toxic particulate and flue gas emissions.
According to Norwegian shipping company Eidevik which owns the ship, called Viking Lady, fuel cell technology has a big future in the maritime world. Some 85% of the world's goods are transported by ship today, a figure which is unlikely to decrease in the future. And shipping is responsible for 3% of global CO2 emissions, not to mention the additional NOx, SOx and particulates.
Clearly there is much that can be done to reduce the environmental impact of world shipping, and cleantech power supply initiatives such as fuel cells can play a useful part in bringing this about. Not only is the exhaust from a hydrogen-powered fuel cell free of particulates and environmentally harmful gases (the sole waste product is water), but the energy efficiency of fuel cells is significantly higher than that achievable by any combustion engine, for fundamental thermodynamic reasons.
For its part, Eidevik will continue to develop the role of fuel cells as power units on the Viking Lady. The shipping company has set the goal of installing two 1,000 kW fuel cell plants, for while natural gas driven engines are markedly more environmentally friendly than diesel engines, they cannot approach either the energy efficiency or clean, green emission profile of fuel cells.