AIDA Cruises to pilot the world’s 1st fuel cell system for large passenger vessels

October 15, 2019 |

Last week, we profiled news from Royal Caribbean that their newest cruise liner, Icon of the Seas, would be powered via fuels cell technology as of the expected launch date in 2022.

That was then, this is now.

Now, Carnival’s German subsidiary AIDA Cruises said it pilot the world’s first fuel cell system designed to power large passenger vessels, as early as 2021. The AIDAnova will trial the unfortunately-named ”Pa-X-ell2,” project, which is developing methanol-to-fuel cells — where the hydrogen is derived from methanol, with the potential to supply power to cruise ships at even lower emissions levels than liquefied natural gas (LNG), currently the world’s champ among lowering emissions among the existing portfolio of fossil fuels. 

Lifespan breakthrough

The fuel cells are expected to have a longer lifecycle than those currently being developed for automobiles, with early trials on land showing a lifespan of over 35,000 operating hours. Freudenberg Sealing Technologies is the designer.

The funding and the partnerships

the Pa-X-ell2 research project includes ,AIDA Cruises, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, the Meyer Werft shipyard and other partners. The funder is Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. 

Why now?

“The market has never been readier than it is now,” says the Freudenberg Sealing Technologies project manager Jürgen Emig. 

The challenge has been price. They are five to six times more expensive than combustion engines. “We have several areas where we need to work and make sure that they become more affordable,” Emig added.

The improvements to materials started off simply. The filling of the two low-viscosity elastomer components was switched to large-series containers. The developers faced greater complexity in the injection molding process, where the innovative gas diffusion layers made from nonwoven materials or bipolar plates receive their customized frame gasket. Work first focused on reducing material usage. “In the injection molding process, the material is pushed through various runners into the mold. The previous tool technology (using hot runners) a large share remained in the manifold as waste.” This was because the process placed the elastomer under heat and pressure causing it to vulcanize, after which it cannot change form. “So, we switched to a cold runner technology to prevent this. Therefore, we only injected as much elastomer as we needed.” The material consumption and thus costs sank dramatically.

Simultaneously, the processing time and, with it, the energy costs could also be reduced. As good as the elastomer functions in the application, the harder it is to remove from the mold because of its adhesive properties – similar to those of silicon. “We have automated the process and eliminated manual operations,” explains Jürgen Emig. “We can also use the technology to solve the problem of what to do with excess electricity produced in solar power plants and wind farms. If renewable sources are used to produce hydrogen, this could then power fuel cell vehicles and – completing the circle – this hydrogen can then be converted back into energy.”

The Carnival backstory

As part of Carnival Corporation’s innovative “green cruising” strategy, the fuel cell pilot is the most recent in an ongoing series of environmental initiatives and major technological advances for the company’s AIDA Cruises brand. Last month, the brand signed an agreement to install a first-of-its-kind lithium-ion battery power system on its AIDAperla ship in 2020, which will be the world’s largest battery storage system ever on a passenger ship, capable of generating a total output of 10-megawatt hours to help electrify the ship’s propulsion and operation for periods of time.

In December 2018, AIDA Cruises made history with the introduction of the world’s first cruise ship capable of being powered in port and at sea by liquefied natural gas (LNG), the world’s cleanest burning fossil fuel. In total, Carnival Corporation has an additional 10 next-generation LNG cruise ships on order, including Costa Smeralda, which will be the second of the corporation’s ships to be powered by LNG when it joins the Costa Cruises fleet this fall.

The company is also pioneering the use of Advanced Air Quality Systems, often referred to as exhaust gas cleaning systems, or “scrubbers.” As of July 2019, Advanced Air Quality Systems have been installed on 77 of the more than 100 ships in the Carnival Corporation fleet. The systems remove almost all of sulfur oxide emissions, 75% of all particulate matter and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.

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