Sandia National Laboratories is leading a ship design and feasibility study that explores the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power vessels.
The project team has designed a research vessel, known as Zero-V, to test hydrogen fuel cells. The vessel will operate at slow speeds for long distances, carrying few people and operating in voyaging through sensitive environments.
The design of Zero-V is based on the hydrogen-powered pleasure craft, SF-BREEZE, an earlier project run by Sandia. The aim of the Zero-V project will be to look in further depth at the economic and technical feasibility of powering larger, commercial vessels with hydrogen, consistent with marine regulations.
Partners to the project include Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego; Glosten, a naval architecture firm; and DNV GL. The project is funded by the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration.
Project lead and chemist at Sandia, Lennie Klebanoff, favours hydrogen as a marine fuel as it is non-polluting, more buoyant than helium as hydrogen rises by itself and escapes into outer space.
“If you’re working in a sensitive ecological area and you spill liquid hydrogen there, the fuel not only removes itself from this environment, it removes itself from the planet,” he said.
According to Sandia, fuel cells generate water that can be used by the crew for drinking. The water can also be used in scientific experiments, reducing the need to desalinate seawater, a process that requires a significant quantity of energy. Fuel cells also have a faster power response than internal combustion engines as they are electrical devices.
Glosten found that with the aid of propulsion devices installed on each hull side, the Zero-V would be able to maintain its position with more than 25 knots of wind and waves from any direction.
Zero-V will operate for more than 2,400 miles, or 15 days, before requiring refuel. This is enough power to get from San Diego to Hawaii. Fuel truck containing liquid hydrogen will be driven directly to the ship during port calls. This means that Zero-V will require little investment in additional fuelling infrastructure.
The vessel was designed by the team based on existing, commercially available hydrogen technology. The design has been reviewed by DNV GL and the United States Coast Guard (USCG), which have both agreed to support the vessel as there are no technical issues with the Zero-V design.
Gerd Petra Haugom, expert in hydrogen at DNV GL said: “This project has been a good test of our own rules and the alternative design approach for using hydrogen and fuel cells. The results from the Zero-V will be part of a benchmark to guide our assessment of similar vessels in the future.”
The next step for Zero-V is to fund the building of it. According to Sandia, the vessel has a similar capital cost to diesel-powered research vessels, but would cost around 7 per cent more to operate and maintain.