'Next big thing for 25 years' now a reality: ABB to supply RCL's first fuel cell system

As part of Royal Caribbean's Sea Beyond technology reveal in Brooklyn this week, attendees got a look at a fuel cell of the kind ABB will be providing for a cruise ship.

In ordering its Project Icon newbuilds a year ago, Royal Caribbean said emissions-free fuel cell technology would be part of powering those ships.

Last year was the first time that mobile power from fuel cells exceeded stationary installations, according to 'The Fuel Cell Industry Review 2016,' and the maritime industry is quickly recognizing the potential of a technology that delivers emissions-free simplicity, maintainability and efficiency.

'Our goal is to take the smoke out of the smokestacks,' said Harri Kulovaara, EVP newbuild and innovation, 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.'

'This pilot installation demonstrates that fuel cell technology is now firmly in sight of the cruise industry,' said Juha Koskela, managing director, ABB Marine & Ports. 'Fuel cells have been the next big thing for 25 years, but now they are reality.'

Fuel cells generate energy by exploiting an electrochemical reaction at the interface between the anode or cathode and the electrolyte membrane. They involve no combustion, converting fuel directly to electricity and heat.

'At ABB, we believe that the next generations of vessels will be electric, digital and connected. Fuel cell technology matches exactly that,' Koskela said. 'Fuel cells have significantly higher efficiency than combustion engines and allow energy to be concentrated more densely than in petroleum fuels. If you use renewables to produce the hydrogen the entire energy chain is clean and truly emission free.

The pilot installation, including control, converter and transformer technology from ABB, will generate 100 kW of energy, and has been fully developed, 'marinized,' assembled and tested by ABB Marine & Ports. ABB selected an FCvelocity proton exchange membrane pure hydrogen fuel cell engine from Ballard Power Systems for its pilot system.

The Project Icon ships are scheduled for delivery from Meyer Turku in 2022 and 2024.

In the meantime Royal Caribbean testing of fuel cell technology on an existing Oasis-class ship was to begin this year, and progressively larger fuel cell projects will run on new Quantum-class vessels being built in the next several years.

Another early adopter of fuel cells for maritime use is Hurtigruten, which will have them aboard 2018 newbuild Roald Amundsen and 2019 sister Fridtjof Nansen.

Posted 10 November 2017

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Anne Kalosh

US editor of Seatrade Cruise Review and Seatrade Cruise News

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