Sandia helps set up future of ocean research with hydrogen fuel cells

October 4, 2021 8:00 am Published by

Lennie Klebanoff has received considerable acknowledgment for his groundbreaking work to understand the wider applicability of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells.

But Lennie didn’t expect that his work would inspire students at one of the oldest and most respected schools of ocean and Earth research on the planet: The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego. These students petitioned Scripps to commit to a zero-emission fleet of research vessels following an analysis of hydrogen fuel-cell power on ships.

“It’s completely out of the blue,” Lennie said of the petitions and personal appeals to school administrators. “We didn’t talk with these students. They are trying to motivate the university to take action. It’s great that our work inspired these young people.”

Partnering with Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Lennie began working with Scripps Institution of Oceanography more than four years ago following the success of an influential 2016 analysis he and former Sandian Joe Pratt wrote on the feasibility of high-speed hydrogen-powered ferries on San Francisco Bay. That report led to the State of California funding construction of the first commercial hydrogen ferry in the Western Hemisphere and a Tech Transfer Award from the Federal Labs Consortium.

Scripps, in a project funded by the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration, asked for Sandia’s help with their research fleet.

“Scripps wanted to know if it would be possible to use hydrogen fuel cells to power research vessels, since they needed to replace three ships in their aging fleet,” Lennie recalled. “So, we were able to get more funding from MARAD. In collaboration with Scripps and the naval architect Glosten, we looked into that question. Turns out, the answer is yes, as we reported in 2018.”

The impact of that 2018 study was immediate and profound, according to Bruce Appelgate, Scripps’ associate director of Ship Operations & Marine Technical Support.

“Our imagination really took off. They were showing that non-polluting hydrogen fuel cells could be used in a maritime environment,” Appelgate recounted. “Our mission at Scripps is to explore the planet from the ocean depths to the top of the atmosphere. While we do this, we also want to go the extra yard to care for the environment.”

But hydrogen fuel-cell vessels would also help data collection.

“For research purposes, a hydrogen-powered boat can actually work better,” Appelgate explained. “Emissions from diesel engines can corrupt our samples, and noise from diesel engines degrades the sensitivity of our underwater hydrophones. We can collect better samples and observations from hydrogen-electric ships.”

Learn more in the complete LabNews article.

Learn more about Sandia’s research on maritime applications for hydrogen fuel cells.

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