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Expleo develops closed-loop, e-methanol fuel cell solution for global shipping

UK-based Expleo, a global engineering, technology and consultancy service provider, has developed a closed-loop fuel solution for global shipping that delivers a 92% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) in the model vessel. Expleo modeled its system-of-systems solution on the multi-tasking Bibby Wavemaster 1, a vessel used to service offshore wind farms.


The solution was defined during Expleo’s feasibility study into clean power propulsion systems, funded through the UK Department for Transport’s (DfT) Clean Marine Demonstration Competition (CMDC).

To meet the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) timeline for carbon emission reduction, many of the world’s 100,000 vessels will need to convert to low-carbon fuel by 2035—making the development of a viable retrofit and new build system a high priority.


Bibby Wavemaster 1, the model vessel.

Our solution uses solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology which, although highly efficient and well-suited to use in marine environments, releases a high concentration of CO2. To achieve the desired reduction in GHGe, we partnered SOFC with a novel carbon capture and storage system, enabling a vessel to use its captured CO2 and green hydrogen to synthesize e-methanol.

The green hydrogen in the solution can be produced at offshore wind farms, from surplus electrical energy or supplied in-port, ensuring the closed-loop remains as sustainable as possible.

—Jonathan Taylor, VP of Marine, Expleo

Expleo’s innovation also delivers significant operational savings, with the study showing OPEX reductions of £1.4 million (US$1.7 million) per year, per ship and a projected payback period of around four years on a retrofit, for the vessel used in the model.

Expleo is now working with several partners to explore the scalability of this novel system.



Here is a link to Expleo's WP pdf which goes into more detail:

They say for their refits (pg6):

' The solution Expleo explored for Wavemaster 1 was to
replace one of its prime mover gensets with an SOFC,
but in order to achieve 100 % of its operational profile, a
small percentage of its role would still require use of its
diesel gensets. However, for different types and sizes of
vessel, a 100 % reduction in GHGe is achievable in new
build and certain retrofits.'

I am wondering if that would be necessary if a PEM or a Anion Exchange Membrane solution were used, as they can be ramped up and down readily.

They argue on pg 8:
' support the use of multiple fuels including hydrogen, ammonia, methanol and natural gas
• operate at high temperature, supporting internal reforming
• are made from robust steel stacks which are efficient and highly durable

The main hassle though is the space for the low energy density of methanol and CO2 storage (pg7):

' In addition, alternative technologies were reviewed that would
complement the methanol fuel choice, including what might
replace the internal combustion engine (ICE) on the SOV. The Expleo
team found the answer in a solution first developed in the 19th
century: the fuel cell. Recent technological developments have seen
a significant increase in fuel cell efficiency approaching 60 %, and up
to 90 % by using a waste heat recovery system, when compared to an
ICE which achieves around half that return.
As methanol has less than half the power density of marine gas oil
(MGO), it means that a fuel cell solution only requires an additional
30 % volume to maintain the vessel’s equivalent operational range,
compared to an ICE using MGO, which is essential for retrofit
projects where available space on-board is at a premium.'

As for the methanol to run them, a fuel which is routinely handled in ports, see for instance this hydrogen production from wind at Felixstowe, the UK's major container port:

Converting some of the hydrogen to methanol would fuel these ships.

The whole 'agin hydrogen' on the grounds of inefficiency relative to batteries entirely misses the point, as there is no way at all that much of shipping can run on batteries.

If you want to decarbonise, you use hydrogen, and its products, it really is as simple as that.

The supposed relative efficiencies of batteries against hydrogen are a false equivalence.

Short range battery powered ferries are fine, not longer distances and heavier loads.


The obvious answer to the need in this configuration for 'diesel' engine supplementation, is to use a methanol capable engine.

Just like the one from Man one articles down!

If they don't fancy that company, Cummins do methanol versions of their engines, but I dunno offhand if they have marine rated versions.


The use of eMethanol (particularly starting with BioMethanol) with CCS could definitely be a solution to replace Marine Oil in shipping. The MAN retrofit is also a good option, since the converted engines will effectively be equivalent technically to newly built MAN 51/60 units that have high efficiency (50% ) and are already in use.

The use of the SOFC even to support conversion of Methanol to Hydrogen makes sense, even if it only replaces one of the engines (look up the HyMethShip project).


We had a discussion on the HyMethShip here:

They are talking about big babies, they mention 1MW, way more than it seems they are looking at here. They mention cruise ships and container vessels as well as ferries, and so far as I could spot are not looking at retrofits, which is the target of this system.

I don't have performance profiles for either ICE engines running on methanol, or fuel cells doing the same, and it is perhaps possible that they run most efficiently under very different loads.

Certainly my understanding is that diesel engines, at any rate of the conventional sort, not the fancy methanol ones, don't much like being under low load, and their efficiency suffers.

So it might make sense to mix and match, with fuel cells covering most of the load, and diesel/methanol ICE for peak loads.

Without the performance profiles, we can't really know.
But in general I am something of a fan of using combinations, in spite of the somewhat increased complexity, so for instance in my view a 16KWh plug in battery pack in an FCEV obviates fuel efficiency objections, and is not only more convenient than a big battery BEV, but far more economic of critical resources.

In the present case, since they seem to think they will need an ICE for peak power anyway, I can't see the point of making it a diesel, with all the hassles of using two fuels, residual pollution and so on when there are methanol ICE, marine rated, coming on the market.


Very good and if those SOFCs are oxy fueled, from the exhaust its much easier to separate CO2 from water than CO2 from water and nitrogen if air had been used instead.
Why not do something similar but with e-methanol as the cargo ?
Back haul the LCO2 (fairly easy and little energy needed) to make more e-methanol
Replaces LNG with something far cleaner and without the problems of shipping hydrogen or ammonia .



Been there, done that, got the teeshirt! ;-)

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