- Nevertheless, there are still many ports around the world where it is not possible to set up an onshore power plant due to constraints in grid connections and capacity.
- Additional benefits of supplying a ship with an onshore hydrogen PEM fuel cell power is the reduction of vibration and noise pollution.
- If the solution is built on a barge, it would be possible to move it from berth to berth as needed and to anchorage points to power ships that are waiting for mooring space.
The marine industry is being rapidly affected by strict environmental rules, and with demand to decarbonize rising, ship operators must discover ways to decrease their operational emission footprint, not just on the water but also at ports as reported by Ballard.
Noise and emissions from auxiliary engines running while ships are docked are significant sources of pollution.
Fuel cells can power hotels and other shiploads with land-based zero-emission electricity, offering one of the most effective ways to significantly reduce emissions without compromising operations.
This includes the entire port operation including ships, trucks, and material handling equipment, which are all major contributors of GHG emissions.
EU’s 2014 Directive on the Deployment of Alternative Fuels Infrastructure sets out shore power systems as essential additions to the future of ports.
With 31 December 2025 being the deadline, operators need to move fast to make this a reality.
How does cold ironing work?
A ship typically stops its main engines when it docks in a port. To generate electricity for heating, cooling, control systems, cargo handling equipment, etc., the ship’s auxiliary engines are still running.
But power can come from an onshore power source, sometimes known as cold ironing, rather than being generated on board the ship. This technique is not new, mind you. The phrase “cold ironing” actually initially appeared when all ships had coal-fired engines. There was no need to keep feeding the fire when the ship would anchor in a port.
As a result, the engines would eventually become entirely cold, giving rise to the name “cold ironing.”
Why don’t we see more cold ironing power plants?
Although the idea and the technology behind cold ironing have been tried and true, they are still in their infancy, especially in terms of adoption. This is mostly caused by a lack of infrastructure and the costs associated with putting the technology into use. The debate about the trade-off of GHG emissions has also played a role. Even if a ship’s ability to shut off its auxiliary engines while at dock would drastically reduce its emissions, the electricity still needs to be provided by the port. Therefore, emissions would continue to be produced unless the ports could guarantee that the electricity is coming from renewable sources.
More electricity is being produced utilising solar and wind energy. However, due to capacity and grid connection limitations, there are still numerous ports throughout the world where it is not practical to install an onshore power plant.
The benefits of using hydrogen fuel cell technology for cold ironing
Hydrogen fuel cells have already proven their performance in a variety of applications and, in close collaboration with the marine industry, fuel cells are also being integrated into vessels.
Additional benefits of supplying a ship with an onshore hydrogen PEM fuel cell power is the reduction of vibration and noise pollution.
This also offers much better onboard comfort while in port, particularly for the ship personnel working close to the auxiliary engines or involved in loading and unloading operations.
With a cold ironing solution, powered by hydrogen and fuel cells, ship operators will also experience lower maintenance costs resulting in the use of hydrogen rather than high-priced diesel or even electrical power, which is currently also seeing skyrocketing prices in many places all over the world.
To that can also be added that the greater efficiency of the fuel cell over a diesel engine makes hydrogen much more economic.
Eliminating diesel consumption and reducing the auxiliary engine’s operational hours would also result in maintenance cost savings and reduced maintenance frequency.
What are the potential deployment options?
As a hydrogen and fuel cell system can meet various power levels and run-time requirements, implementing a cold ironing power solution can benefit all types of marine and port configurations.
Here we are looking at cruise ships, RoRo ships and container feeder ships.
These types of ships regularly call at the same port and tend to have (somewhat) fixed schedules.
By providing ship operators with a zero-emission alternative to running diesel auxiliary engines while at berth, the cold ironing technology would also reduce the ship owners’ fuel costs and increase competitiveness while reducing port GHG and other harmful emissions, An onshore hydrogen fuel cell solution could also increase the port’s competitiveness as it would remove the need for adding electrical infrastructure.
In addition, it would add another element of flexibility for the ports.
This is something that a short power connection cannot do.
What to consider when installing a hydrogen fuel cell cold ironing solution?
The flexibility of servicing different vessels with different voltage, frequency, and hook-up needs will affect the number of fuel cell units and the size of the solution.
So before installing the onshore, cold ironing solution, operators will need to have an overview of which ships will make use of it– and how often.
It is therefore a future-proof technology that can adapt to current and future operating requirements.
With the flexibility of the installation, operators also need to consider where the optimal installation is.
It can be installed in a floating barge or a modular and scalable container solution for easy handling.
Some vessels will also have to be retrofitted and equipped with the necessary technology in order to be able to receive cold ironing power from the fuel cell unit.
A cold ironing facility driven by hydrogen fuel cells is a practical way for port operators and ships switching to zero-emission alternatives to satisfy future emission standards and move the maritime sector and ports closer to decarbonization. It is a dependable, trustworthy substitute for onshore power installations that are reliant on the electrical network.
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