Sandia researcher Joe Pratt stands near the Port of Oakland, one of the west coast ports he studied to learn whether hydrogen fuel cells are a viable power source for docked ships. (Photo by Steffan Schulz)
Clean hydrogen power that’s expected to lower emissions and reduce energy consumption will be coming to the Port of Honolulu in 2015 after the completion of a new fuel-cell technology demonstration, one that could lead to a commercial technology for ports worldwide. Ports have been a major water- and air-pollution source in the U.S.—but remained largely unregulated, until very recently. Many ports have begun to enact sustainability goals or adopt green practices, and that’s where fuel cells can play a role.
After conducting a study of various ports in 2013, Sandia hydrogen researchers analyzed Young Brothers’ shipping operations in more detail. Like many operators, the company uses diesel-engine generators to provide power to refrigerated containers. “We compared the efficiencies of their diesel engines vs fuel cells, studied the energy efficiencies at various power levels, and estimated the savings and reductions in emissions that would be realized if they were to convert to a fuel-cell-powered operation,” said Sandia’s project manager, Joe Pratt (in Sandia’s Energy Systems Engineering and Analysis Dept.). Analysis showed that when generators are frequently producing less than maximum power, such as in the Hawaii application, the efficiency advantage of fuel cells compared to the combustion engine increases, he said.
A new fuel-cell demonstration project led by Sandia will feature a portable, self-contained hydrogen fuel-cell unit currently in the design phase. Once completed, it will be deployed to the Port of Honolulu by Young Brothers, Ltd., one of the project partners and a primary shipper of goods throughout the Hawaiian Islands. (Photo courtesy of Young Brothers, Ltd.)
With promising study results and a shipping partner, Young Brothers, to serve as an early adopter and operate the fuel-cell system for six months, the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration decided to fund the demonstration, which will result in a portable, self-contained hydrogen fuel-cell unit that can float on a barge, sit on a dock, or be transported to wherever it’s needed to provide electrical power. “No one has ever built this kind of custom unit for this purpose,” said Pratt. The unit, he said, will fit inside a 20-foot shipping container and will consist of four 30 kW fuel cells, a hydrogen storage system, and power-conversion equipment.
The project’s other partners include
These organizations have regulatory authority over the design and operation of the prototype and see the project as a way to assist their development of formal regulations for hydrogen and fuel cells in the maritime environment. They, along with the DOE Hydrogen Safety Review Panel, will review the safety aspects of the design and operating plans.
In addition to its project-management role, Sandia is providing technical expertise in hydrogen and fuel cells, particularly in the areas of
- codes and standards,
- system design,
- safety systems, and
- data collection and analysis of both operations and the business case for deployment.
Following the six-month fuel-cell-system deployment, the project team will analyze the project’s successes and challenges, including the operating and cost parameters needed to make a business case at other ports. The long-range goal, Pratt said, is to develop a commercialization-ready technology that can be widely used at other ports. The project team sees a strong market need and desire for a fuel-cell solution, not only at maritime ports but also for other applications, such as providing power to users that are not connected to an electric grid.
View a brief video of Joe Pratt explaining the team’s concept.
Read the Sandia news release.
Read the Sandia news release about last year’s study.