Technology: Cool Technology

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

While debate continues on whether or not fuel cell-based power generation can be a viable proposition for the commercial marine market, its advocates in the engineering industry are making headway in giving practical form to the technology. The installation of a fuel cell power unit aboard a 12-m (approx. 40-ft) yacht, fully approved and safety-certificated by Germanischer Lloyd, has provided an important, albeit modestly-sized, new waterborne platform for the concept.

Using Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM)-type fuel cell modules supplied by Ballard Power Systems of Canada, MTU Friedrichshafen has prepared a complete propulsion system which enables the craft, known as No. 1, to run at seven knots under fuel cell power alone. Installation of the plant was overseen by German power station operator IPF, owner of the yacht, sailed on Lake Constance, a very large body of water bordered by Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Given the lake's role as Europe's largest public water supply reservoir, the silent operation and claimed emissions-free performance of the powering arrangements confer the requisite, exemplary ecological credentials. No 1's plant is an electric hybrid system consisting of multiple fuel cell modules, lead-gel accumulators, and electric drive motor, plus the hydrogen tanks for feeding the fuel cell, and a quantity of electronic control and monitoring equipment.

The CoolCell system, so named because of its operation at a relatively low temperature of about 65-degrees Centigrade, compared with the 650-degrees C of the HotModule type, for instance, comprises four modules with a unit electrical output of 4.8-kW. "Even if the yacht market is not yet ready for the wide-scale introduction of fuel cell technology, we want No 1 to be proof of the fact that we are in the position to successfully manufacture mobile fuel cell propulsion systems," said Dr. Rolf A. Hanssen, chairman of MTU Friedrichshafen and head of the DaimlerChrysler Off-Highway business unit. MTU is part of DaimlerChrysler, which also has a 25-percent stake in Ballard. CoolCell is regarded as suitable, in principle, not only for yachts but also for power generation in many other mobile applications, including commercial and military vessels, and for rail transport. MTU is in the vanguard of fuel cell technology in Europe, and the company's developmental work on commercial marine applications has been undertaken in cooperation with Ballard, which also supplies the modules for the Mercedes Benz A-class fuel cell automobiles. MTU's Hot Module fuel cell, a decentralised and versatile, miniature power station, is expected to be put into series production in 2006, following a growing number of field trial plants at locations in Europe, America and Asia.

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