Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Technology for Maritime Shipping: A Comprehensive Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment of a Multi-Fuel Propulsion System for Sustainable Shipping

Main Presenter:    Alena Frehner 

Co-Authors:   René Itten     Matthias Stucki                                          

Maritime shipping is responsible for the emission of about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. Most maritime vessels are operated with heavy diesel oil engines, emitting large quantities of GHG and air pollutants. Accordingly, a drastic reduction of GHG emissions from ships has become a key regulatory target on the European as well as global level. The maritime shipping industry, which is considered a hard-to-decarbonize sector, is therefore actively seeking for alternative technologies for a more sustainable operation of maritime vessels without compromising their current performance levels.
The Horizon Europe project FuelSOME focuses on developing a multi-fuel capable propulsion system based on Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) technology for maritime shipping. The proposed fuel cell-based propulsion system is specially catered for long-distance maritime shipping, and will be able to operate on ammonia, methanol or hydrogen. A core part of the FuelSOME project is to identify and assess short- and long-term supply chains for these synthetic fuels, and to quantify their prospective life cycle sustainability impacts.
In a first step, the life cycle impacts of different supply chains of ammonia, hydrogen and methanol synfuels were analysed. The considered synfuels originate from electricity as the feedstock (e-fuels), and different electricity scenarios were included, namely the European electricity mix, photovoltaic power from Spain and wind power from Denmark. Those fuels were then compared to conventional ammonia, hydrogen and methanol production as well as to a conventional fossil-based propulsion system. Analysis of the life cycle impacts of propulsion systems with the various considered fuel pathways was carried out for the environmental as well as the social aspects. The impacts were assessed using a comprehensive set of environmental and social indicators following according to the recommendations of the Joint Research Council of the European Commission for environmental impacts and the UNEP-SETAC guidelines regarding social impacts and socio-economic benefits.
The analysis revealed that the heat demand for the production of synthetic ammonia, as well as the carbon source for the production of methanol are crucial environmental hotspots. In case of the social impacts the initial screening revealed that the production of the energy producing infrastructure and their associated material demands are the key driver of social impacts.
Ultimately, the results of the environmental and social LCA will be complemented with results of the techno-economic assessment, aiming to provide a comprehensive picture of the life cycle sustainability impacts of the fuel cell-based FuelSOME propulsion system for maritime vessels.

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