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Emission-free yachting with fuel cell propulsion

With more than 10,000 ships worldwide, the yachting industry is an important part of the maritime economy. Innovations, the latest technologies and environmental protection play a key role for its customers. This is because yachts often operate close to inhabited coasts, where emissions of any kind are a particularly sensitive issue. As with the larger ships, for which range and route flexibility are essential, electricity is ruled out as an energy source due to the high weight and low volumetric energy density of the battery systems, among other things. Fuel cell propulsion is the more sensible approach here. That is why Lürssen and Freudenberg have defined a joint technology roadmap for yachts without combustion engines. The aim is to develop fuel cell systems for mega yachts. The aim is for the first ship to be able to lie at anchor for more than 15 days or cruise more than 1,000 miles with zero emissions. This is roughly equivalent to the route from New York to Miami or from Hamburg via London to Lisbon.

The fuel cells, which have been specially developed for maritime applications, are expected to completely replace the conventional generators on the ship at times during the first joint ship installation. This will enable the yacht to anchor for 15 days or cruise 1,000 miles with zero emissions – an important added value for the ship owner. Freudenberg’s methanol-powered maritime fuel cell system with integrated fuel reforming, which received “Approval in Principle” from the classification society DNV GL at the end of 2020, is used for this purpose: Hydrogen is generated directly in the system via steam reforming, which then reacts with oxygen from the air in the fuel cell, generating the electrical energy required for both propulsion and the on-board network. Ship owners benefit from higher efficiency than with the internal combustion engine, and thus lower fuel consumption and reduced maintenance. The ships travel with virtually no noise or vibration, which is particularly important for the regions served by yachts.

In addition to the Truck & Bus segment, equipping ships with fuel cell systems is one of Freudenberg’s strategic goals, explains Dr. Manfred Stefener, Vice President Fuel Cell Systems at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies: “Our goal is to decarbonize the entire maritime fleet. We will cover the complete energy needs of ships, including the main propulsion system, thanks to the integration of fuel cell-battery solutions. With this hybridization strategy, the required installations in the double-digit megawatt range per ship can be realized sustainably and cost-efficiently. Freudenberg supplies these solutions from a single source.”
Right sizing of fuel cells and batteries and fuel flexibility are key success factors for Freudenberg: the company is one of the few with the technological expertise to manufacture both fuel cells and high-performance batteries for heavy-duty applications from its own production with maximum added value. “This enables us to directly influence the costs, quality and technical performance of the systems,” said Dr. Stefener.
In the future, fuel cells in continuous operation will cover the base load in shipping. The power for peak performance, for example during maneuvering, will be provided by batteries. “This coordinated interaction increases the service life of all system components and also optimizes overall system efficiency,” says Dr. Stefener, explaining the right-sizing approach. “It also allows the total installed power to be designed smaller, which offers significant space and cost advantages.”

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