Foss to test barge-mounted portable hydrogen fuel cells in Hawaii

Foss Maritime is partnering with Sandia National Laboratories and several other entities to design and test hydrogen fuel cells for use in ports, with the goal of reducing the need for diesel power.

Young Brothers Ltd., a Hawaiian cargo company and Foss subsidiary, is scheduled to test the cells in 2015 to power refrigerated containers that carry goods between the islands.

“No one has ever done this before, so it is very exciting,” said Susan Hayman, Foss’ safety and environmental vice president.

Young Brothers uses diesel generators to power refrigerated containers on docks and on barges when transporting the containers. In this project, a portable, self-contained fuel cell unit will replace one diesel generator.

At its Honolulu pier, the company has one or two generators running constantly, according to Michael MacDonald, Young Brothers’ manager of regional operations.

“If there is a way to help save costs and reduce the impact on the environment by lowering emissions, it is in the diesel refrigeration unit,” he said.

One generator powers 15 to 20 containers. The company has ports in Honolulu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Hilo, Kawaihae and Kauai.

A major advantage of the hydrogen fuel cell is it is more efficient when less power is needed. A diesel generator has to run at the same rate regardless of how many containers it powers, said MacDonald.

“The fuel cell gets higher efficiency the lighter the load is,” said project manager Joe Pratt, a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories. “It is kind of an opposite efficiency curve compared to diesel generators — that is how fuel cells can be competitive with diesel generators, even if the fuel is, on an energy basis, more expensive.”

The prototype will generate 120 kW of power. The power unit is being designed and built by Hydrogenics Corp. of Canada. Four 30-kW fuel cells, a hydrogen storage system and power conversion equipment will fit into a 20-foot shipping container that can go on a pier or a barge, Sandia said in a news release.

The six-month test is slated to begin in early 2015. The fuel cell unit will be tested on the docks first, and if that is successful, moved onto a Young Brothers barge.

The plan is to use the hydrogen unit on the company’s route from Honolulu to Molokai, a six-hour journey one way, MacDonald said. The barge is in port for six to eight hours before returning to Honolulu, so the fuel cells need to run for 18 to 20 hours without refueling.

The design of the fuel cell container must take into account the sea states on the Molokai run, which can range from 8 to 10 feet in the summer to up to 15 feet in the winter.

“In especially heavy weather it could take a wave over the side of the barge,” MacDonald said. “It will have to withstand rain coming down and water coming from (the ocean).”

Eight Young Brothers employees are currently working on the project, which is being funded by the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute will work to find an island source of hydrogen for the project.

The Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping are involved to ensure safety and to work on developing rules for the maritime use of hydrogen fuel cells, said Hayman.

The long-range goal is to produce commercial-ready hydrogen fuel units that could be used at other ports. Another possible use for this technology is to power port gantry cranes, Pratt said.

By Professional Mariner Staff