With 80 percent of worldwide trade conducted by sea, the maritime transportation industry keeps the global economy humming.

Due to the industry’s disproportionate reliance on shipping, it has the potential to bring global commerce to a standstill, as demonstrated by the recent grounding of a cargo ship, the Ever Given, in the Suez Canal, which resulted in a floating traffic congestion of over 400 ships.

With over 90,000 ships comprising the world’s commercial fleet, shipping accounts for around 3% of global CO2 emissions. Modernizing one of the world’s oldest modes of trade through the use of cutting-edge, clean energy technology is no easy undertaking, but that is precisely what Bloom Energy has set out to accomplish. It is critical that marine trade boats operate on energy that is both clean and efficient. It is not, however, as simple as swapping out one engine for another.

Internal combustion engines (ICEs) are the most often used method of propulsion and power generation on big seagoing boats. Traditionally, ICEs have been powered by heavy fuel oil, a highly polluting fuel. While heavy fuel oil is abundant, it is also one of the dirtiest fuels available. Published studies have established the harmful impact of heavy fuel oil burning on the climate, causing governments and maritime organizations to establish emissions guidelines to mitigate the negative impacts. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has produced standards for all cargo ship owners, recommending that CO2 emissions from cargo ships be cut in half by 2050 from 2008 levels. As a result, the marine sector has been looking for ways to accomplish this goal.

Fuel cells are the answer. Fuel cells are a highly efficient method of generating power that will help us transition to cleaner fuels and assist ship owners, builders, and partners in meeting IMO standards. Bloom Energy’s fuel cells are fuel-flexible, which means they may run on easily available natural gas, hydrogen, biogas, or a combination of the three. Additionally, Bloom Energy’s fuel cell technology has demonstrated superior performance while powering big loads such as stadiums, manufacturing, and other large land-based facilities. It’s logical that the same technique would be similarly effective on the water.

By adapting land-based fuel cells for maritime uses, proposed designs of fuel cell-powered ships would provide more than enough electricity to keep a vessel operational. In comparison to conventional power sources, natural gas fuel cells dramatically reduce CO2 emissions and smog-forming pollutants and particulate matter, such as NOx and SOx, by more than 99 percent.

Marine fuel cell certification is a tough procedure that requires new technologies to endure a range of operational scenarios to guarantee they can resist the rigors of the sea and weather. Classification societies such as the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Lloyd’s Register, and DNV-GL anticipate that any new marine technologies will be capable of withstanding the rigors of maritime use. The fuel cells developed by Bloom Energy are expected to accomplish precisely that.

Strict certification criteria necessitate thorough testing in an industry historically regulated for decades. Shipboard technology should comply with present laws while also demonstrating compliance with future requirements, which is what Bloom Energy is focusing on this year.

Bloom Energy’s technical and product teams are hard at work preparing the fuel cells for use aboard ships. Additionally, the company has partnered with naval architects and maritime engineering firm Foreship to collaborate on marine-specific engineering and market features. Both teams are efficient in their respective fields, which is precisely what is required to develop solutions that adhere to the IMO’s mandate.

Often, new technology, such as fuel cells, advance faster than laws. Given the lack of experience with new technology in maritime applications, safety, durability, and efficacy problems must be addressed. The New Technology Qualification (NTQ) procedure is intended to address those issues by offering guidelines and recommendations that ensure a seamless, low-risk transition of the technology into maritime use. Bloom is currently developing its NTQ to ensure that its technology performs as planned and meets established performance requirements. After completing the NTQ, Bloom Energy intends to proceed with the ABS certification procedure, which involves a technical review and a study of production compliance.

Bloom Energy received NTQ verification as an alternative power source for vessels as part of its path to an ABS classification and as part of the NTQ service in which it participates, demonstrating efficient implementation of new technologies, a level of maturity, and that potential risks have been systematically reviewed.

Additionally, as part of Bloom Energy’s collaboration with Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) to develop fuel cell-powered ships, an engineless, 100% fuel cell-powered liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier has received Approval in Principle (AiP), or basic design approval, from the maritime classification society DNV. The term “100% fuel cell-powered” refers to the fact that both auxiliary needs and ship propulsion would be entirely powered by fuel cells.

We’re pleased to build on this momentum with these big moves forward toward a more sustainable marine industry.

Bloom Energy is currently field-testing their technology in the maritime environment, which is very different from that of land-based fuel cells. Ships and their onboard equipment must be able to endure and continue operating effectively and safely in the face of frequent ship motion and, at times, rough waves.

Vibration testing shakes the equipment at predetermined frequencies and durations, simulating the continuous vibrations experienced on vessels. Similarly, tilt testing replicates the range of motions seen by a ship while negotiating rough seas. Pitch, yaw, and roll motions on the tilt platform are used to demonstrate the technology’s readiness for operation on water at defined angles and intervals. These tests verify that power generation continues uninterrupted during rough seas, when the crew requires dependable electricity the most.

Bloom Energy will complete the last testing phase, which will include an on-water demonstration scheduled to commence in 2022, following rigorous testing on land replicating the ocean environment.

That is the simple part. Installing new equipment on ships is not as straightforward as bringing the vessel to a shipyard for repair. Maritime boats are constructed around their propulsion systems, which means that fuel cells must be incorporated throughout the design phase. Ships being constructed at the moment are unlikely to sail for several years.

Marine fuel cells, as a result, are reshaping the future of ship architecture. Without the constraints of centralized engine rooms, the modularity, customization, and low-profile footprint of Bloom Energy’s fuel cells enable greater design options for maritime vessels, allowing for more efficient hull construction, larger cargo capacity, and increased resilience.

Bloom Energy is making strides toward assisting maritime organizations in meeting emissions and efficiency rules by transitioning to greener alternative fuels such as natural gas and hydrogen for power generation. As maritime emission rules grow more ecologically conscious, Bloom Energy’s fuel cell technology will enable vessels to comply.

Bloom Energy’s cutting-edge technology is reviving a centuries-old business and repositioning it at the cutting edge.

Nedim Husomanovic

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