Category 18 April 2019

Decreasing environmental emissions in commercial shipping by introducing fuel cell technology

Converting energy via chemical reaction into electricity – fuel cells – is a technology to produce energy at reduced emissions. Especially when it comes to reduction of emissions from shipping, fuel cells have been shown to be effective. This was successfully done by the Joint Industry Project FellowSHIP coordinated by the Norwegian Det Norske Veritas (DNV). 

The challenge

Sea shipping is common in global trade and long distance transport. Ships account for approximately 1000 million tons of CO2 emission annually, corresponding to 3.5% of all greenhouse gases. At the same time, they produce great amounts of emissions of other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx) and toxic particles. In order to create a more sustainable world we need to manage this problem, and find a way to reduce fossil fuel use in sea transport.


The innovation

A Joint Industry Project (JIT) – the FellowSHIP project – was launched in 2003 as an answer to the growing call for sustainable energy in the marine and offshore sector. The challenge was managed through development of a hybrid energy system with the potential to reduce 50% of the CO2 emissions, eliminate other pollutants, and improve energy efficiency. The Norway based R&D project was a collaboration between DNV, Wärtailä, Eidesvik Offshore, and Germany’s MTU Onsite Energy. FellowSHIP had a public grant partial funding for R&D from the Research Council of Norway, Innovation Norway and the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology.

The FellowSHIP project developed a hybrid energy system that couples fuel cells with advanced batteries, integrating it in a merchant ship. It should be noted that fuel cells are not a new technology, but the project was the first to apply it successfully to commercial shipping.

A fuel cell is an energy conversion device which can be compared to a battery. Through chemical conversion in reaction with oxygen in air, the fuel cell can produce energy that is stored in a source (e.g. hydrogen, natural gas, waste gases, etc.) into electricity. Depending on the source emissions of harmful substances can be close to zero. In the case of the FellowSHIP project Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) was used as a source. When using LNG instead of heavy fuels, it is possible to reduce NOx emissions by approximately 90% and eliminate the emissions of Sox and particles. CO2 emissions can be reduced by 20%.

The FellowSHIP project resulted in the successful installation of a 330kW fuel cell (LNG fuel power plant) onboard the merchant ship Viking Lady – the first fuel cell in operation on a vessel. The hybrid system was able to reduce emissions up to 50% whilst increasing the fuel efficiency by 30% when compared to a traditional power plant, thus providing a more sustainable transport.


Why did it work?

The R&D collaboration of the FellowSHIP project emerged as a response to the increasing demand for commercial alternatives of power systems for ships, arising from tougher emissions regulations and concerns about emissions such as NOx, Sox and CO2.


Further deployment

The technology can be estimated to have reached 7 on the TRL scale, whilst the success of the project has enhanced expectations for wider commercial use of the technology.



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