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ShipFC innovates green ammonia fuel cells for deep-sea shipping

The EU-funded ShipFC project will demonstrate that zero-emission deep-sea shipping is possible. “Today we have no technology to meet the IMO’s strict emissions standards for shipping by 2050. The ShipFC project seeks to prove that solid oxide fuel cells powered by green ammonia can fill that void,” says Tjalve Svendsen, Head of Projects at Alma Clean Power.Published 12 Dec 2022 (updated 7 Feb 2024) · 4 min read
In the ShipFC project the offshore support vessel Viking Energy will be retrofitted with a 2 MW ammonia fuel cell system

To achieve zero-emission technology, a high-temperature solid oxide fuel cell powered by ammonia-will be retrofitted onboard the offshore support vessel Viking Energy, which is owned by Eidesvik Offshore and operated on contract for Equinor. The aim is for the vessel to operate on the fuel cells for at least 3 000 hours during a 12-month trial period.

When completed in 2024, it will be the world’s first ammonia-powered fuel cell system ever installed on a ship.

We have a unique opportunity to use this vessel for a long time, which will strengthen the validity of our testing.

Tore Boge

ShipFC Project Manager, Maritime CleanTech

"The strength of the ShipFC project is that we will test our solutions on a real-life vessel in a real-life commercial environment. We have a unique opportunity to use this vessel for a long time, which will strengthen the validity of our testing," says Tore Boge, ShipFC Project Manager at Maritime CleanTech.

The project's fuel of choice is ammonia, a zero-emission fuel when produced by electrolysis powered by renewable energy. Ammonia is already traded on a global scale. Compared to other zero-emission fuels it has highly efficient energy density and is relatively easy to store. All of this makes it a green fuel that will likely meet part of shipping’s future energy demand.

Green ammonia holds great promise

Without a doubt, green ammonia fuel cells are an environmental winner. Power and heat are generated silently with no vibrations. The process is combustion free, ensuring low or zero emissions.

"Our project goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Viking Energy by 70 per cent. Other pollutants such as NOx, SOx and particulate matter will be reduced even more. Our aim is to cut these by over 80 per cent," says Boge.

The project will use ammonia from Yara Clean Ammonia. Unlike other green fuels, ammonia is already supported by most chemical tankers and transported on a large scale for use in fertiliser.

While some ammonia infrastructure exists globally, challenges remain. The project will therefore explore maritime bunkering solutions, markets and business models, as well as ways to incentivise green ammonia production.

Developing the first megawatt-scale fuel cell

The star of the project, however, is the high-temperature, solid oxide fuel cell.

"We are working to scale up a 100-kilowatt fuel cell to 2 megawatts, which is a huge leap in capacity. This will enable the use of fuel cells on even larger vessels, ultimately replacing the main engines and further reducing emissions," explains Svendsen.

He anticipates a dramatic increase in efficiency compared to combustion engines. The target is for the fuel cells to deliver 60 per cent electrical efficiency, with the potential to further increase this by utilising the heat generated by the fuel cell for other purposes on board ships.

While ShipFC works with ammonia, the fuel cells from Alma Clean Power can operate on a variety of fuels, such as LNG, hydrogen and methanol.

"Alma Clean Power is de-risking ship decarbonisation with our fuel-agnostic fuel cells. Vessel owners don’t know what type of fuel will predominate 30 years from now, and they are much more likely to invest today in flexible technology that will give them options in the future," he says.

There are no limits. If we are able to prove this technology and reduce the cost of fuel cells, this will be an extremely competitive product.

— Tjalve Svendsen, Head of Projects, Alma Clean Power

Debunking safety misconceptions

It's no secret that ammonia is toxic and flammable, as it consists of one nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms. This is why ShipFC gives high priority to safety in all aspects of the project.

"When piloting new technology and new fuels, safety is of paramount importance. We need to prove that the system is safe as well as efficient," explains Boge.

To ensure this, the project partners are working closely with DNV, Norway's international classification society. DNV, which has world's strictest maritime safety standards, will build on the knowledge gained from the project to expand and refine safety requirements for future vessels.

Building a new green industry

Studies will also be conducted on offshore construction vessels and two cargo vessel types as part of the ShipFC project. The aim is to demonstrate the ability to transfer this technology to other segments of the shipping industry.

"As I see it, the main benefit of our project is to qualify technology and build an industry," says Svendsen.

It's no coincidence that the project consortium is heavily Norwegian. Norway already has a well-rounded value chain, thanks to its maritime heritage, decades of offshore experience, and proven green maritime innovations already in operation.

When asked about the project's market potential, Boge replies without hesitation: "There are no limits. If we are able to prove this technology and reduce the cost of fuel cells, this will be an extremely competitive product."

EU-funded project

The ShipFC project has received funding from Clean Hydrogen Partnership (previously Fuel Cells and Hydrogen 2 Joint Undertaking) under grant agreement No 875156. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and from Hydrogen Europe.