Maritime Application of Fuel Cells


Fuel Cells to be installed on a RCL Cruise ship as a pilot project:

Please also note:
Viking Cruises wants to build a Cruise ship that will be powered by hydrogen:

Fjord 1 is qualified to bid for the first Car/Pax Ferry to use Hydrogen as fuel, now being developed by Fiskerstrand:

Future of ships
Future of ships

so a few giant fuel cells connected to several prop shafts with several motors on them all designed to run for weeks without human hands, what else to do on board?

I think ,lots on here are thinking to get old technology working well enough to automate/remote control.

If you gave a design house the problem of saying we have to build a ship and there cannot be anybody on board some things might be a bit different.

What came first, airlines said we dont want flight engineers on board or the engines were made well enough not to need them. All can be monitored remotely from the ground now ( well maybe not MH370)

The future is, if it can be automated it will be


Do you believe the best designers and engineers in the world are not working on that this very moment?

Advances in technology lead to automation and system reliability to the point where human intervention was no longer required. Precisely what is occurring in the marine industry now.

The major difference now is time … an airliner can have a system failure which requires landing but is always within a very few hours of a suitable airport. It is relatively easy (practical, comfortable) to design for 18 hours without human intervention, that is a huge difference from a ship in mid Atlantic, Pacific, or the Indian Ocean.


For the navigation part the technology is probably well enough advanced to where remote control and even autonomous operation can be implemented now, but the legal aspects are lagging behind.

Propulsion machinery able to reliably operate for weeks without service is also in existence, but all the auxiliary equipment required to keep it going is maybe less reliable.

To go for a hybrid solution, where there are some engineers left on board to ensure that those systems works, is not a viable alternative, since that would also require all the same “hotel” services as on today’s ships.

The alternatives, such as Gas turbines run on LNG/LPG to supply propulsion power, directly or via electric motors, are not economical when compared to low speed diesel run on HFO.

But Hydrogen fuel cells with enough capacity to drive a mega container vessel (60-80 mW) is under development and will be available by the time autonomous ships crossing oceans becomes legal.

What happens if an autonomous ship have a breakdown in mid-ocean?
The same as if a manned ship have a breakdown. Drifting until a tug gets to it and manage to hook up tow. (Emergency towing arrangement compulsory, regardless of type/size)

What if it breaks down close to a coast? Also same as a manned ship. Anchor(s) can be dropped remotely, if necessary.

What If an autonomous ship have a collision, or goes on the rocks? Nobody need to risk their life to save the crew, since there is none. If Hydrogen powered there is no pollution. (Unless from the cargo)

What if there is a fire? Automatic or remote activation of Water Mist or CO2 release. Machinery shuts down until salvage tug with fifi crew arrive. Nobody in harms way.


Before getting all warm and squishy about hydrogen (or any other kind of) fuel cells go back and read my post showing the volume of fuel required to provide a given amount of power. Consider that volume along with the volume of the fuel cells - the complete system, cells, cooling pumps, heat exchangers, controllers, power management components, propulsion controllers and propulsion hardware and in my opinion we end up with a 100 TEU ship the size of a cruise ship if it is expected to enter the liner trades.

I won’t even begin to think about the cost per ton mile of the tiny payload left over after fuel tanks and propulsion systems are installed. Build humongous megaships? Sure, just multiply the potential problems and add the cost of having to offload offshore and use a fleet of robotic feeders to transfer cargo?

I think we are a very long way away from seeing hydrogen fuel cell powered, fully automated vessels in much of any use where the vessel is out of view of human overseers for more than a few minutes n a voyage more than a few miles with ground support at each end - as in crossing fjords.

Maybe someday but look at the volume of current plants, look carefully at the power produced per unit of volume and add that to the fuel storage requirements for a seagoing ship:


Hard to find a direct comparison, will my ship go further with 1ton of lpg being used via a fuel cell or a piston engine?
Is a fuel cell output based on btu of fuel in or are their other factors? They claim 60% thermal efficiency.


Fuel cells can be anywhere from the same to nearly twice as efficient as the best diesel running on conventional diesel fuels.

The comparison you need to make is between the storage volume of any of the gaseous or liquified gas fuels compared to diesel fuels.

How many cubic meters of tankage to move the ship a given distance? At some point of speed, range, and payload the tank and propulsion system volume is going to exceed the volume available for cargo and probably cost far more than the revenue the ship could ever produce even without having to feed and house all those overpaid sailors.


that was my question, it seems the only data is on btu per litre but can you compare a fuel cell to piston engine consumption via btu of the fuel?

Dont forget one giant engine room and accommodation is no longer there so thats lots of fuel space


For some reason I thought that “powerabout” implied some basic knowledge of energy conversion.

Do some basic homework before posting stuff like that.

For some reason I thought that “powerabout” implied some basic knowledge of energy conversion.

Posts 652 and 655 should provide some kind of information for you. Look at the pictures in post 652 and let me know if you think that “giant engine room and accomodation” is going to contain 20 something megawatts of fuel cells plus their auxiliary equipment not to mention the power control and conversion components even if the actual propulsion motors are external to the hull.

Believe it or not I really don’t want to be snide and mean about this stuff but before you join a conversation about something like this you really should spend some time reading about energy conversion and power transmission as related to fuels and marine propulsion. Look at the history of marine mechanical propulsion and its relationship to the type and quality of fuels available as well as efforts to improve efficiency.


yes fuel cell 60% thermally efficient but using fuel that takes up more space, I get that.
I cant find a comparison with my question directly which is the answer we need.
All the data is skewed to whoever is writing it or the baseline they use is so far out like ICE 25% efficient etc.
Slow speed diesel and some turbines are at 50%.
Yet another with a forklift comparison says fuel cell doesnt beat battery or lpg via ice unless it also uses a battery hinting that there is an optimum output that a fuel cell needs to be at?
But they are measuring total power in ( including making the fuel) to forklift consumption.

Some data on the Toyota Kenworth project, using hydrogen truck does 200miles on a fill and the drive train weighs the same as the the original? does that mean its same weight as 200miles diesel fill up?
But for road vehicles they all seem to have a battery as well. For a ship its all uphill so no downhill regen parts.
Found a US gov doc from GM, hydrogen fuel cell 2kg/kw at 2.5ltr volume/kw, 24,000ltr in 40’ container so almost 10Mw per 40 box, so maybe same space as main engine but 10 40’ boxes on 22,000teu ship easy to lose.
ABB built a 135.000hp electric motor for NASA wind tunnel
Excluding its coolers and other accessories,
the motor occupies a space 3.65 meters long,
6.1 meters wide and 7 meters high.
Still got room for twice the fuel if lpg but what is power density for lpg fuel cell?
Certainly going to work for all the OSV’s in the new field in Ozzie where the Prelude can refuel them but they will be ICE I imagine.


I have been trying to follow your line of thought but you are really confusing too many topics in the same post or even the same sentence. The % efficiency is not a factor to consider without specific definition. Thermal efficiency? Mechanical? Theoretical? Actual?

Here, read this report with some specifics

If you make it through that you will see the efficiency numbers to not tell a simple tale.

For me the path to fuel cells for marine propulsion is anything but settled. It’s not the simple black box in place of a DG some people seem to think it is based on announcements and press releases. Use Hydrogen as a fuel and you have one set of problems. Use MGO or other hydrocarbon and you have the whole fuel reforming set of problems and machinery to go with it (not to mention the sulfur poisoning the catalysts) that begs the question does it really lend itself to powering an unmanned ship.

Good luck on your investigations but be careful extrapolating from automotive systems and the parameters they operate within or the biggest motor data you can find online and designing an economical marine propulsion system.


Thanks for the link
lots of facts with other contrary facts as they looked at others research.
I cant see if we are using lpg fuel cell there is a space issue on a ship which was what steamer was trying to say would make it a non starter. Yes we need twice the fuel volume.
Its technology so size and price are the 2 things you know will lower all the time as well.
The single large motor is a non starter but I was just getting a power density idea.
Autonomous ship would need to have 2 shafts and at least 4 motors.
The last place they will be introduced will be crossing oceans. Local work for sure.


You seem to be running before walking. How do you come to such a specific design parameter so quickly?

Once you solve the (big) fuel issue since the devices are likely to be smallish you could have more than one, no? You could use podded propulsors as Steamer was alluding to somewhere above. You could have propulsion cells separate from ships service cells and locate those close to where needed - operations/control center, bow thruster?

This stuff seems a ways off for ship size propulsion. I mean you can’t read that report and think scaling this up and making it commercially viable is going to be easy or is just around the corner. It’s a collection of technologies / approaches at this point and still in early stages. Experimental and prototype units. I’m glad to hear somebody has money for R&D but commercial off-the-the shelf soon? Don’t think so.


It was in reply to other bloke that complained I had one engine…
How do you feel about OSV/AHTS DP vessels with fuel cells and multi Mw batteries? ( not 100% yet)
They have been out there for a while now.
there are a few more now with 3.5MW batteries
I see the IMO645 update, 1580 has a few changes to reflect this

If and when this goes out to sea on a platform I imagine vessels wont be far behind if the fuel storage works out

( original post from Ombugge)


I don’t “feel” anything in particular about it. I don’t read it as the inevitable future or savior of shipping or the planet OR as a waste of time and money of no value. I note it. The Viking Lady seems to have been what we called a “demonstrator” project. 330 kW for 7000 hours. They should have gotten some good data about that specific cell design and fuel system. This is not even EDG size on many ships. I assume it had nothing to do with propulsion but no drawings or references to details are provided. Was this thing powering the entire SS bus? The lighting circuits only? Did a DG remain installed and ready to start? How many times was it taken off line and then re-started? What is the start up time? Hard to evaluate the project with out details such as these. Doesn’t make it not worthwhile though. This is how things evolve.

Hmm I don’t see it that way. First, it is a “concept”. Second, it seems to be meant to power stationary platform presumably within service distance of shore and alternate powering in case of problems. Which leaseholder will be first to replace his GT gen sets with this and risk shutting in production when the concept fails? In other words this, like all the other ideas, will progress from concept to demonstration projects, to scaling up, to commercial scale prototypes, to shore testing, to installation and actual use - if it has merit.

Where batteries fit in to a general ship size propulsion scheme I do not know and cannot generalize about. There may be no need for batteries at all or only sized for in-port ship service loads or specific system UPS service. In other cases like Foss’s ship assist hybrids it seems to make great sense - or will.

The whole area seems to be proceeding on many divergent paths and I expect the future will find that R&D will focus more narrowly on the most promising solutions and weaker ones will fall by the wayside. Not every press release represents a definitive conclusion or even useful evidence to base a decision on if you’re building a ship today.

It is possible to view these developments in a even tempered, rational, technically orientated, even hopeful fashion without professing to know “date certain” for various events or making huge jumps of conclusions. However, doing so may get you labeled as a Luddite or as “being left behind”.

I would suggest that if you and others want to continue the discussion of fuel cells we could move some of these posts to its own thread. I will look into that. However, interested as I am in the subject I really don’t have much else to offer unless someone starts posting real papers and drawings specifically aimed at the marine world.

In the meantime bona fortuna!


Unless those press releases originate from Sunnmøre.



Thanks, hopefully the larger font size will help … if not I’ll post it again even larger.


This is the web site for the company that produced the nice power point @Steamer linked to above.

Some good information and they look like they are producing proven, mature designs. Still their 1.4 MW unit is about the size of a “tennis court”. Puts out 480 VAC and is connected to a an external source of natural gas. Spec sheet here

An EMD MD skid with 16 645 E8 roots blown engine has a 1500 kW (1.5 MW) gen set (480 VAC). You could probably fit 5 or more of this skid with engine, generator and accessory rack in that same space.

This should give some idea of why and where development of this concept should continue for marine use. These units do look pretty advanced and off the shelf for the purpose they serve shoreside. And made in the USA!

Sound like a broken record, but MARAD used to fund pure R&D research and pilot or demonstration projects. Would be a nice project to put these folks together with NA/ME house and a shipyard to gin up a test platform.


You are right (for once) most of the new technology around hydrogen propulsion for marine use is progressing here in Sunnmore, or the nearest surroundings

  • Ferries at Fiskerstrand
  • HSCs at Br. AA.
  • Long liner for Ervik Havfiske

This technical discussion is getting a bit ahead of my knowledge, but here is Technology update on hydrogen-driven vessels:

Iceland may be the first country to be 100% on renewable energy, incl. their fishing fleet: