The announcement that marine energy storage specialist Corvus Energy has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Toyota, the world’s largest supplier of fuel cells for the automotive industry, for the development and production of sustainable, large-scale energy maritime- certified hydrogen fuel cell systems, could prove a decisive moment in maritime's transition to carbon-free solutions.
“We need to bring scalable, complete solutions to the market. So far we have only initiated pilots but, by selecting Toyota as a partner, and building on what we have done with the battery, we are looking at going straight on to the industry and we think we can scale up,” said Corvus CEO Geir Bjørkeli during an online press conference to officially launch the partnership at the start of February.
The announcement is linked to a research project led by Corvus and involving several other significant players in Norwegian maritime: Equinor, shipowners Norled and Wilhelmsen, ship designers LMG Marin, the NCE Maritime CleanTech cluster, and R&D institution the University of South-Eastern Norway (USN). The partners have received a €5.2 million grant from government agency Innovation Norway to develop and produce modularised and cost-effective PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell systems for the international marine market.
“At Corvus, with our project consortium partners, we will design the fuel cell module with all systems, design packaging and software and we will explain a little bit later how we can combine the use of fuel cell and battery. We’re going to have exactly the same interface towards the electrical integrator,” explains Bjørkeli.
By adding fuel cells to its product portfolio, he believes his company can become a more complete provider of zero-emission solutions. But it’s also an acknowledgement that battery technology will be unable, for the foreseeable future, to meet all the energy demands of deep-sea commercial vessels.
Building on battery experience
The aim is to offer batteries and fuel cells in unison as a single package. Kristian Holmefjord, Corvus EVP and project director, explains: “[Whereas] the ICE is a very robust unit that you can do almost anything with in terms of loading and stress, when it comes to fuel cells we need to use them slightly more cautiously. We need to ensure they’re much more stable in production and the way they’re used to get the most value out of your power system.
“One of the important parts is that we’re keeping the same interface through our customers today. We have the exact same value chain when we’re delivering to our end customer, the system integrator.”
Presently, Corvus supplies its customers with a maritime battery and complementary battery management system (BMS), which interfaces with a system provided by the system integrator, services typically provided by companies such as Wärtsilä and ABB. Under the plans, the fuel cells will join the batteries under a combined management that optimises the lifetime performance of both.
“The integrator we use today for the battery is the same we will use for the fuel cell”, says Halvard Hauso, Corvus’ CCO. “All the partners in the supply chain are the same as we use today. Working with these partners is what has brought us to where we are.”
He adds that, just as batteries have moved away from the ‘one size fits all’ model (Corvus itself now offers a choice of seven different batteries, according to needs), so too will the same philosophy be applied to fuel cells. “We are now starting with the ideal PEM fuel cell with hydrogen and then we’re going to build up what we need to cover the full maritime industry."