The recently announced ABB (ASEA Brown Boveri) and Ballard Power Systems collaboration will build zero emission fuel cell modules that can eliminate the need for costly shore power installations for ships at ports and provide zero emission marine power.

A Ballard spokesman told AJOT that “ABB is very much interested in providing fuel cell modules for the cruise ship industry. More ports are requiring that cruise ships shut down their engines while they are in port to avoid generating diesel emissions.”

In California, the regulation for shore power states: “The purpose of the At-Berth Regulation is to reduce emissions from diesel auxiliary engines on container ships, passenger ships, and refrigerated-cargo ships while berthing at a California Port.”

Shore power must be used by these vessels to plug into the local electricity grid and auxiliary engines turned off while at-dock. When using shore power, auxiliary systems, such as lighting and air conditioning, use energy from the local electrical grid. Shore power typically produces zero onsite emissions.

The U.S. Department of Energy says fuel cells powered by hydrogen produce no emissions: “Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are powered by hydrogen. They are more efficient than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles and produce no tailpipe emissions—they only emit water vapor and warm air. “

The fuel cell module potentially offers a lower cost solution to a port’s shore power investment by incorporating the clean energy solution on the ship using the module. This avoids the expense of building a shore side power system costing millions of dollars and requiring shipowners to pay for reconfiguring ship engine rooms to include the shipboard connection. This also saves the shipowner the cost of buying electricity from the grid.

The spokesman said that the ABB/Ballard Agreement “is a developmental agreement and what that means is that the details have yet to be worked out. ABB will describe what size fuel cell module it wants and other relevant specifications. We expect that the first product will be produced by around 2020.”

“Hydrogen fuel cells are at the forefront of zero-emission technologies for shipping,” said Juha Koskela, managing director, ABB Marine & Ports. “We look forward to working with Ballard Power Systems on the next-generation fuel cell technology, in line with our commitment to equip the marine industry with electric, digital and connected solutions that maximize the full potential of vessels and enable a safe, efficient and sustainable maritime industry.”

In 2017, ABB announced that it was delivering its first fuel cell system for Royal Caribbean. The system will be deployed on board a Royal Caribbean vessel and will be the first fuel cell system to provide an energy source for a luxury cruise ship. “Our goal is to take the smoke out of the smokestacks, said Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president of Maritime and Newbuilding, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “We are dedicated to innovation, continuous improvement, and environmental responsibility, and using fuel cell technology gives us the opportunity to deliver against all three of these pillars.”

ABB is a Swedish-Swiss company headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland that produces electronics, robotics, heavy electrical equipment and automation technology.

The Ballard spokesman said: “The modules will be scalable so, for example, they might generate from 1 megawatt to 10 megawatts of power, but this has yet to be determined.”

Ballard has built 1 megawatt hydrogen fuel cell modules. One module was sold to Toyota for its Torrance, California headquarters. This allowed Toyota to reduce its electricity costs by switching to the fuel cell module during peak hours when electricity costs are at their highest. That installation is several years old: “Today, it would be cheaper because the cost of producing the modules is going down as the sale of hydrogen powered fuel cell modules increase,” he said.

Currently Ballard fuel cell modules have been deployed in many sectors of the transportation business; in transit buses, commercial trucks, forklifts and drones. Audi is planning to utilize a fuel cell module for a new car model.

The spokesman said cost of hydrogen fuel “is in the region of 10-20% more expensive” than diesel fuel. As more companies contract for hydrogen fuel that cost will decrease.

He also said that a fuel cell module costs more than a comparably powered diesel engine. However, the total maintenance cost of the fuel cell compared to the diesel engine is substantially less because “the fuel cell module has no moving parts.”

As proof, Ballard has sold buses in London that have gone for 30,000 hours without maintenance: “A diesel engine would have required maintenance far sooner.”

Ballard Power Systems is a Canadian company located in Vancouver, British Columbia which produces fuel cell technology and employees 600 people.