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Courtesy of Freudenberg

World - Freudenberg methanol-powered fuel cell system gets type approval

German battery technology company Freudenberg e-Power Systems has received type approval by Italian classification society RINA for the methanol-powered fuel cell system — the world’s first of its kind to become type approved.

This means that the system can now be used on seagoing vessels, representing an important development step towards new maritime energy systems and climate-friendly shipping.

Converting commercially operated ships on the high seas to CO2-neutral drive systems is said to be a huge challenge. One important factor is the range requirement of the individual ship types. This must be as large as possible for cruise ships, tankers and container ships in order to be able to cover the long routes across the world’s oceans without stopping. Route flexibility and ranges of more than 5,000 nautical miles are basic requirements of the world’s maritime fleet.

Purely battery-electric solutions are often out of the question for these deep-sea applications due to their high weight and space requirements. Hydrogen as a direct energy storage medium is also ruled out for these ship types, as its low volumetric energy density would require it to be stored in huge hydrogen tanks in a cryogenic or highly compressed state. This is not a sustainable option for the maritime industry.

Nevertheless, fuel cells have tremendous advantages due to their high efficiency and low maintenance requirements. Therefore, it makes sense to chemically bind regeneratively produced hydrogen to achieve a significantly higher energy density. This will make fuel cells economically and practically viable for ocean-going shipping, according to Freudenberg.

The fuel cell system can be combined with Freudenberg e-Power Systems’ maritime battery systems to create particularly efficient hybrid solutions. In this context, the use of climate-neutral methanol represents a turning point on the road to maritime sustainability and the achievement of IMO emission reduction targets.

Methanol is a simple alcohol that is liquid under normal ambient conditions and has around three times the volumetric energy density of liquefied hydrogen. As an important raw material for the chemical industry, climate-neutral methanol is characterized by proven manufacturing processes as well as good availability.

Combination of reformer and high-performance fuel cell

Freudenberg e-Power Systems’ approach to using methanol for marine applications combines highly efficient fuel reforming technology with a long-life PEM fuel cell in a modular, scalable system unit. It generates hydrogen via steam reforming, which then reacts with oxygen from the air in the fuel cell to produce the electrical energy needed for both propulsion and the ship’s electrical system.

The heat required for the reformer can be obtained directly from the waste heat of the fuel cells. Fuel cell stack, reformer and control electronics as well as all components for media supply are located in a prefabricated, modular unit. This containment design facilitates easy installation on board.

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