11bigstock Shell oil company 91578098
11bigstock Shell oil company 91578098

In a bold new move, Royal Dutch Shell announced it was considering a trial process of powering ships in Singapore with hydrogen fuel cells. If the project proves successful, the oil major will move forward with a cleaner and hydrogen-powered method of shipping.

According to their research and data, all indicators lead to hydrogen fuel cells being the technology of zero-emissions that can best serve shipping needs. Additionally, this technology is expected to help achieve zero emissions by 2050.

Trial Specifics

With the engineering and installation of an auxiliary power unit fuel cell, the trial will be conducted on a roll on and off vessel that carries equipment, vehicles and other equipment on the seas between Singapore and the island that houses Shell’s Pulau Bukom manufacturing site.

These massive vessels are designed to transport wheeled cargo. This cargo, often in the form of an automobile, departs the ship by driving off on its own wheels.

The hydrogen fuel will be provided by Shell, who will also bear the responsibility of chartering the test vessel. Penguin International Ltd. owns the vessel, and SembCorp Marine Ltd will both design the fuel cell and fit it into the vessel. The feasibility study projects fuel cell installation in the upcoming year. The trial period itself is scheduled to last 12 months.

“We see fuel cells and hydrogen as a promising pathway for decarbonizing shipping, and working with partners in this way will develop our understanding of this critical technology,” said Nick Potter, General Manager of Shell’s shipping and maritime sector in Asia Pacific and Middle East.

How does a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Work?

A fuel cell requires an anode, cathode and an electrolyte to create a chemical reaction. Hydrogen fuel is directed to the anode by way of a flow field. Stripped of electrons, hydrogen atoms become ionized. As a result, they carry only a positive charge. Oxygen enters the fuel cell cathode and partners with electrons returning from the electrical circuit as well as the ionized hydrogen atoms.

After the electrons are picked up by the oxygen atom, travel is made through the electrolyte, where it combines with the hydrogen ion. Chemical reaction occurs and is based upon the oxygen combining with the ionized hydrogen.

Passage between the anode and the cathode is made possible by a polymer electrolyte membrane. If all ions and electrons could pass without resistance, the chemical reaction would be interrupted. Identified at the end of the process, positively charged hydrogen atoms react with oxygen. This results in the formation of water, but also heat and the creation of an electrical charge.

Characteristics of Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

Hydrogen and fuel cells combined serve society in an important fashion. This technology is sought to be as viable as wind and solar. Interesting facts accompany this potential energy source:

  • Hydrogen is the most abundant element on Earth.
  • Fuel cells can be utilized to power various applications.
  • Fuel cells are a clean producer of energy.
  • Fuel cell cars are similar to conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.
  • California has more than 30 conventional hydrogen stations to date.

Looking Ahead

Working on the basis of collaboration, the United Nations set specific goals for the shipping industry. To maintain compliance, leaders of the industry have said that the global fleet in 2030 must receive the first wave of net-zero emissions ships. Utilizing hydrogen as a power source, it is speculated that this could assist in potentially meeting that industry goal.


Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 [email protected]


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