Maritime Applications for Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen fuel cells have a long track record of supplying efficient, clean power for a wide range of applications, including forklifts, mobile lighting, emergency backup power systems, and light-duty vehicles. In addition to these applications, Sandia has also studied the feasibility, optimization, applications, and safety of hydrogen fuel cells used in maritime settings. Browse publications and final reports related to this research below. Final Reports are available for direct download.

Hydrogen Gas Dispersion Studies for a Fuel Cell Vessel

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A simulation of hydrogen gas dispersion from the report: Hydrogen Gas Dispersion Studies for a Fuel Cell Vessel

This report provides hydrogen gas dispersion modeling results for hydrogen fuel-cell technology on hydrogen vessels. Three topics are considered: 1) the release of hydrogen from 250-bar hydrogen storage tanks through a vessel Vent Mast; 2) hydrogen release from the interior of a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel-cell rack situated in a ventilated Fuel Cell Room; and 3) hydrogen release from hose failures that could occur during vessel refueling from a hydrogen delivery trailer. The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Maritime Administration (MARAD) through MARAD’s Maritime Environmental and Technical Assistance (META) program.

Feasibility Study of Replacing the R/V Robert Gordon Sproul with a Hybrid Vessel Employing Zero-Emission Propulsion Technology

Download the Final Report: Feasibility Study of Replacing the R/V Robert Gordon Sproul with a Hybrid Vessel Employing Zero-emission Propulsion Technology

This report examines the applicability of hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion technology for a coastal/local research vessel. The concept was studied as a replacement for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) R/V Robert Gordon Sproul research vessel, which is approaching the end of its service life.  Feasibility is demonstrated for a Sproul Replacement Vessel (SRV) that employs liquid hydrogen (LH2) in combination with proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel-cell technology as a hybrid propulsion system.  The Hydrogen Hybrid SRV offers significant performance advantages compared with a Battery Hybrid SRV in terms of zero-emission range, overall vessel energy efficiency and reduced pollutant emissions (both greenhouse gas and criteria pollutants). These advantages are due to the increased volumetric energy storage associated with the Hydrogen Hybrid utilizing liquid storage of hydrogen.  The project team consists of Sandia National Laboratories, Glosten, and SIO.  The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD).

Zero/V Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Coastal Research Vessel

Download the Zero/V Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Coastal Research Vessel Final Report

A conceptual drawing of a zero-emissions coastal research vessel.

Sandia partnered with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the naval architect firm Glosten and the class society DNV GL to assess the technical, regulatory and economic feasibility of a hydrogen fuel-cell coastal research vessel.  Feasibility was found for a 10-knot vessel with 2400 nautical mile range, able to perform 14 Scripps science missions, and could be refueled with liquid hydrogen at 4 different ports of call along the U.S. West Coast.  An analysis was also performed of the criteria pollutant emissions as well as greenhouse gas emissions. The Zero-V has zero emissions on the vessel itself. Dramatic reductions in both types of emissions along the hydrogen production and delivery pathways could be achieved using renewable liquid hydrogen. No “show-stopping” issues were identified by either DNV GL or the United States Coast Guard. The feasibility of the Zero-V, as well as the ability to refuel it with ~ 11,000 kg of hydrogen, has implications for large hydrogen fueled vessels such as cargo vessels and cruise ships. This work was funded by the Maritime Administration (MARAD) within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Optimization of Zero-Emission Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ferry Designs

Download the Optimization of Zero-Emission Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ferry Designs Final Report

This study presents realistic designs of five commercially relevant passenger vessels powered solely by hydrogen fuel cells. All five designs are feasible to build and operate today. Per-passenger mile energy use and costs are analyzed and show that low speed, large capacity vessels offer a cost-effective starting point for today’s hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Informing Hazardous Zones for On-Board Hydrogen Systems

Press Release, Report

The significantly higher buoyancy of hydrogen compared to natural gas means that hazardous zones defined in current maritime safety codes for natural gas may be inaccurate if applied to hydrogen. This study presents gas dispersion analyses for three hydrogen vent/leak scenarios.  The results can be used by industry and code developers to ensure safety of future vessels using hydrogen as a fuel.

Practical Application Limits of Fuel Cells and Batteries for Zero-Emission Vessels

Download Practical Application Limits of Fuel Cells and Batteries for Zero-Emission Vessels Final Report

Hydrogen and fuel cells were studied as an alternative power plant for maritime vessels by considering 14 case studies of various ship sizes and routes varying from small passenger vessels to the largest cargo ships. The results show that it is practically feasible to consider these zero-emission technologies for most vessels in the world’s fleet. Hydrogen fuel cells proved to be the most capable while battery systems showed an advantage for high power, short duration missions. The results can guide ship designers to determine the most suitable types of zero-emission power plants to fit a ship based on its size and energy requirements.

San Francisco Bay Renewable Energy Electric vessel with Zero Emissions

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SF-BREEZE News Release

In 2014, San Francisco-based tour boat company Red and White Fleet approached Sandia National Laboratories to explore whether zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell technology could be applied to a new vessel. To provide an answer, Sandia and Red and White Fleet partnered on the SF-BREEZE project to examine the technical, regulatory, and economic feasibility of a high-speed passenger ferry powered solely by hydrogen fuel cells and its associated hydrogen fueling infrastructure within the context of the San Francisco Bay. This study was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration.

Maritime Hydrogen Fuel Cell Generator Project

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maritime fuel cell report picture

More information on the Maritime Hydrogen Fuel Cell Project

The Maritime Hydrogen Fuel Cell (MarFC) project studied the feasibility of hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered generators as an alternative to diesel generators to provide clean power in port operations. The work was co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration.

Zero-Emission Hydrogen Vessel Working Group

Sandia is the founder and lead of the Zero-Emission Hydrogen Vessel Working Group, a public-private group which meets regularly to share non-competitive information. The main goal of the group is to connect entities to each other and to resources—i.e. funding support, technology and expertise, and regulatory guidance.  On-going feedback and results from efforts are shared with the group. The group is also developing a roadmap which will be used as a guide for actions that group members take on, and eventually for advocacy/outreach of group activities. To join the group please contact Lennie Klebanoff.

Vessel Cold-Ironing Using a Barge Mounted PEM Fuel Cell

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a container ship
This study examines the possibility of providing zero-emission power to a variety of vessels at berth including this 6,000 TEU containership at the Port of Tacoma (photo credit: Joe Pratt).

A barge-mounted hydrogen-fueled proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell system has the potential to reduce emissions and fossil fuel use of maritime vessels in and around ports. This study determines the technical feasibility of this concept and examines specific options on the U.S. West Coast for deployment practicality and potential for commercialization. The conceptual design of the system is found to be straightforward and technically feasible in several configurations corresponding to various power levels and run times. The most technically viable and commercially attractive deployment options were found to be powering container ships at berth at the Port of Tacoma and/or Seattle, powering tugs at anchorage near the Port of Oakland, and powering refrigerated containers on-board Hawaiian inter-island transport barges. Other attractive demonstration options were found at the Port of Seattle, the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, the California Maritime Academy, and an excursion vessel on the Ohio River.

Lennie Klebanoff

Leonard E. Klebanoff, Sean A.M. Caughlan, Robert T. Madsen, Cody J. Conard, Timothy S. Leach, T. Bruce Appelgate, Comparative study of a hybrid research vessel utilizing batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy,Volume 46, Issue 76, 2021, Pages 38051-38072, ISSN 0360-3199,

R.T. Madsen, L.E. Klebanoff, S.A.M. Caughlan, J.W. Pratt, T.S. Leach, T.B. Appelgate, S.Z. Kelety, H.-C. Wintervoll, G.P. Haugom, A.T.Y. Teo, S. Ghosh, Feasibility of the Zero-V: A zero-emissions hydrogen fuel-cell coastal research vessel, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Volume 45, Issue 46, 2020, Pages 25328-25343, ISSN 0360-3199,

L.E. Klebanoff, J.W. Pratt, C.M. Leffers, K.T. Sonerholm, T. Escher, J. Burgard, S. Ghosh, Comparison of the greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions from the SF-BREEZE high-speed fuel-cell ferry with a diesel ferry, Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, Volume 54, 2017, Pages 250-268, ISSN 1361-9209,

L.E. Klebanoff, J.W. Pratt, C.B. LaFleur, Comparison of the safety-related physical and combustion properties of liquid hydrogen and liquid natural gas in the context of the SF-BREEZE high-speed fuel-cell ferry, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, Volume 42, Issue 1, 2017, Pages 757-774, ISSN 0360-3199,