Proton’s hybrid hits water

A boat part-driven by fuel cells that can carry up to 100 passengers on three-day trips has been launched in Germany.

Proton Power Systems, a developer of fuel cells and fuel cell hybrid systems, claims it is a first.

The Zemship (Zero Emission Ship), based in Hamburg, runs on a hybrid unit integrating two 48kW fuel cell systems and a lead gel battery. An intelligent energy management system co-ordinates the output of power between the fuel cells and the battery to give twice the fuel efficiency of a standard ship diesel engine.

The hybrid system was designed to make the boat more fuel efficient, less polluting and quieter. The boat uses up to 50kg of gaseous hydrogen stored in onboard tanks, which provides enough fuel for three days’ use.

The EU is investing €2.4m (£1.9m) in the boat’s development and operation until 2010. After a test operation the operator will gradually take it into commercial service next month.

The project, which began in November 2006, has been co-ordinated by the city of Hamburg and has the support of eight other partners in addition to subsidiary Proton Motor Fuel Cell.

The company claims this marks the first use of fuel cell systems in marine passenger transport. Fuel cell systems of equivalent performance level in maritime applications have only been realised for military submarines.

‘There are not so many fuel cell developers and producers in the world who can handle these larger size applications,’ said Joachim Kroemer, Proton Power Systems sales director.

The Zemship’s hybrid unit integrates two 48kW fuel cell systems and a lead gel battery and is managed by an intelligent system

The company has a history of bringing fuel cell energy sources into new, unusual applications. It has also developed a triple hybrid power system, combining a fuel cell, battery and supercapacitors for use in a forklift truck (The Engineer, 14 November 2007). The supercapacitors and batteries are used to recover and store energy when the truck brakes. The fuel cells provide peak power during operations such as acceleration and lifting heavy loads. The company claimed it was the first forklift truck to use such a system.

In the Zemship the fuel cell system does not include supercapacitors. Kroemer said they are only necessary when there are short and high peaks of power. ‘We only have a battery plus a fuel cell because we you don’t have the same high and short peak powers with a ship as you do with a forklift truck.’

He said it is possible that such a system could be retrofitted on to a ship but only if it is already equipped with an electric propulsion system.

There are several other limitations for the use of these systems with ships, he said. ‘You’re not going to have an ocean liner cruising around the world with this system, because there is a hydrogen storage onboard and the ships need to be close to a hydrogen filling station.’

Kroemer said the company is interested in integrating more of these systems in short- distance ferries and boats with local operations around coastlines.

Siobhan Wagner