An ultramax bulk carrier in the Lavinia Bulk fleet operated by Laskaridis Shipping is starting an 18-month pilot project to test using fuel cells to supply its entire electrical needs.

The methanol-fuelled system will be fitted to the Greek shipping group’s 63,459-dwt bulker Leonidas (built 2017) in a co-project with French classification society Bureau Veritas.

Advent Technologies fuel cells will provide power for all the battery systems on board the vessel, Suzanna Laskaridis, chairwoman of Lavinia Group, the holding company of Laskaridis Shipping, told TradeWinds.

“The high-temperature system is one of the first projects that uses fuel cells on ocean-going ships,” said Laskaridis, using methanol as a hydrogen carrier to produce electrical energy and water.

“We are hoping to use the system to power all of our battery systems on board, and hoping to achieve 18 kilowatts,” she added.

Laskaridis hopes that over time it may be able to achieve a higher power output from the fuel cells that would allow its ships to emit zero emissions during port operations, although she concedes that may not be a possible outcome from this first project.

The company wants to understand the installation and use of fuel cell technologies on ships and how increased power production could lead to further uses longer term, potentially even for propulsion.

Operational costs of the system remain to be discovered, but Laskaridis said the capital cost was not extreme, at about $200,000.

Laskaridis, who recently took over as chair of Lavinia from her father, Panos, who remains chief executive, said that over the past few years the company has invested in “digitalisation as a catalyst to decarbonisation”.

In collaboration with Bureau Veritas and Greek digital developer Metis Cyberspace Technology, it has been using data and machine learning for better voyage planning, electrical consumer monitoring, fuel consumption and predictive maintenance, she said.

Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore is working with Laskiridis on both the fuel cell project and the implementation of smart ship technologies.

Vassilios Dimoulas, Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore technology and innovation manager for Greece, Cyprus & Malta. Photo: Bureau Veritas

Its technology and innovation manager for Greece, Cyprus & Malta, Vassilios Dimoulas said the fuel cell project has involved it putting into practice and testing out safety rules, which it is developing.

It has involved combining Bureau Veritas’ rules for high-temperature fuel cells, which had been based on using hydrogen, with those for methanol fuel use on ships, he said, for one of the first times.

Safety aspects of dealing with high-temperature fuel cells and venting and positioning of fuel tanks were vital as methanol is highly flammable.

Laskaridis said the use of accurate data will be very useful in adapting vessels for the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) ratings being implemented by the International Maritime Organization.

Data collection is not new, but a much better evaluation of customised information is possible now that it is being gathered almost in real time, she said.

CII relies on data and better decisions can be made to adjust vessel operations when it is readily available rather than having to wait for a rating to be calculated at the end of the year, Dimoulas added.

Bureau Veritas aims to issue its Smart 3 rules covering augmented ships, shore connectivity, remote decision support and operations in January 2023, he said.