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Project to Start Trials on Ship-Board Methanol SOFC APU

Undine_1168940130
The Wallenius MV Undine will host the methanol SOFC trial.

After nearly one and a half years of research and development, the EU-funded METHAPU (Validation of renewable methanol based auxiliary power systems for commercial vessels) project is about to start trials on a prototype of a methanol-based solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) auxiliary power unit (APU). The prototype will be tried and tested for performance and emissions under real-life conditions onboard a vessel—the MV Undine, a Pure Car Truck Carrier (PCTC)—involved in trading between Asia, Europe and the USA.

The one-year METHAPU trial will help to assess the maturity of methanol-based technology and its suitability for daily use in the shipping sector. At the same time, the test will make it possible to quantify the short-term and long-term environmental impact of such a system in comparison with conventional systems. These systems still tend to rely on battery power or generators to provide power independent of the ship’s propulsion source or main electric system.

According to the independent Norwegian organization Det Norske Veritas (DNV), one of the five project partners, the world’s fleet of ships is the source of 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions, 10% to 15% of NOx and 4% to 6% of sulphur oxides. DNV specializes in risk management in various areas and operates internationally.

Wartsila
Wärtsilä 20 kW APU unit.

The METHAPU research is focused on SOFC units of the 250 kW class. For marine validation purposes, a smaller 20 kW unit is being installed on board the Undine. The results of the validation run and the tests will contribute to the second and final part of the research—the marine-compatibility of the 250 kW unit, its safety and reliability.

Methsofc
Flow diagram of the methanol SOFC. Click to enlarge.

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells are suitable for use in high-power applications. The electrolyte is a solid, nonporous metal oxide. The fuel cell generally operates in the temperature area 600-900°C. The efficiencies of present fuel cell plants are 30-55%, based on the lower heating value (LHV) of the fuel. The fuel cell itself runs on hydrogen—the methanol (or natural gas, in other SOFC applications) is reformed prior to entering the fuel cell.

The METHAPU consortium includes: Wärtsilä, Finland; Wallenius Marine, Sweden; Lloyd’s Register, United Kingdom; University of Genoa, Italy; and Det Norske Veritas, Norway.

The strategic objectives of the METHAPU project are:

  • To assess the maturity of methanol using technology on board a commercial vessel;

  • To validate marine-compatible methanol running solid oxide fuel cell technology;

  • To develop the necessary technology for the use of methanol on board cargo vessels involved in international trade in order to support the introduction of necessary regulations to allowing the use of methanol as a marine fuel;

  • To assess short-term and long-term environmental impacts of the application; and

  • To enable future research activities on larger marine compatible solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) units and methanol based economy.

Resources

Comments

Rafael Seidl

Why does a cargo ship whose main engine is a large diesel running on sulfur-laden heavy fuel oil need an on-board fuel cell APU at all? It will have minimal impact on toxic emissions and noise.

Reducing emissions while in port is a different matter, but cold-ironing can be achieved with LNG-based generators on shore or, temporary connections to the electricity grid.

Dave Anderson

This looks like it will be be a one for one replacement of the auxiliary diesel generator used to provide electrical power. Electrics are not usually run off the main propulsion plant on board a ship. This is a small scale effort that will yield small scale returns. Perhaps leading one day to large scale projects.

Rafael Seidl

@ Dave -

so what's wrong with an on-board genset powered by an ICE. If you don't like diesel emissions from your APU, a spark ignition engine running on LPG would be a perfectly acceptable alternative. There's no real value in using a fuel cell in this context.

Dave Anderson

I think the core intent here is to find a real world field application test for a SOFC. From the ship's needs point of view, conventional solutions would of course suffice but that really isn't the point here. This project is more a small scale techval/opval type evaluation.

Methanol is very under-rated, it was used as an auto racing fuel for decades and it is really just a liquid form of methane, only at room temperature and pressure. This actually makes it easier to handle that other forms of methane such as CNG or LPG. One operational downside to using methanol in an ICE is that methanol has a low energy density so that for a given range the fuel tank needs to be about twice as large as the diesel it replaces. But given the increased energy efficiency of an SOFC over an ICE this is not so much of a limitation.

Healthy Breaze

I thought SOFC's could run on a variety of fuel types that would foul alternative fuel cell chemistries. That, and efficiency are part of the SOFC appeal.

For example, "wet ethanol" (where less energy is used on distilation) would supposedly have pretty good well-to-wheels efficiency in SOFC....and it's less toxic.

Am I incorrect on any of these impressions?

Rafael Seidl

@ Dave Anderson -

perhaps they just wanted a testbed that naturally vibrates and exposes the fuel cell to substantial gross motion.

sjc

"using a fuel cell in this context.."

It would be mighty nice to store a liquid fuel in large quantities for a long voyage rather than compressed gas.

I saw these guys when I was looking for methanol SOFCs. I also came across an academic paper that said there are some issues to over come in just putting vaporized methanol straight into the stack, but if you use moderate temperatures and create methane, no problem.

sjc

HB,

Pretty much in general. SOFCs run at higher temperatures, so are more efficient for the fuel that they use. Fuel utilization may only be 70-80%, so that is why they use exhaust turbines to burn the remaining H2 and get even more power and efficiency.

The electrodes and catalysts are less effected by substances that would contaminate a PEM, within limits.
Because of high temperatures there is the possibility of carbon coking. That can be overcome and to me they look like a good bet.

Since they use both H2 and CO as a fuel, they are good for the ethanol/methanol route. They can take methane straight and some copper/ceria types can take gasoline and diesel with minor front end processing.

It seems like an accurate guess that this is a pilot project. Imagine a methanol ship with 80% efficient SOFCs/turbines running electric props/jets. After all, a modern war ship is pretty much a floating power plant anyway.

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