fuel cell

Beyond hydrogen: classification rules for ships using fuel cells

In the fight to decarbonize shipping, fuel cells compete in two weight classes: alternative fuels and clean electricity. Fuel cells convert the chemical energy of fuels into electrical and thermal energy. This clean energy is then used to power ships’ propulsion or auxiliary power systems – without generating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the case of hydrogen as fuel.

Fuel cells’ zero-emissions profile makes them attractive for shipowners looking to reduce their vessels’ environmental footprint and comply with changing sustainability regulations. However, shipyards and vessel operators require clear guidance on the safe design, construction, installation and operation of fuel cells. This should be coupled with ongoing access to updated safety frameworks, as fuel cell technology advances and a greater number of fuel profiles are considered.

Creating guidelines for fuel cells

The push for international guidelines for ships using fuel cells began alongside the development of the IGF Code[1]. As fuel cell technology has advanced, the IMO has accelerated efforts to create guidelines within the regulatory framework addressing ship safety.

In September 2021, the IMO Sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC 7) finalized draft guidelines on safety for ships using fuel cells. This text will be presented for adoption to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) at the upcoming session in April 2022. In parallel, the CCC sub-committee is also considering the development of guidelines for the use of ammonia and hydrogen as fuel.

Which ships use fuel cells?

Inland navigation vessels and short-sea ships are particularly well-suited to integrating fuel cells using hydrogen onboard. They require limited installed power, falling within the range currently available in fuel cells. The technology to integrate fuel cells on larger vessels, such as cruise ships and containerships, is being developed and adapted to their needs rapidly.

For the moment, fuel cells are mainly envisaged to power the auxiliary systems of larger vessels, offering a zero-emissions solution for ships idling at port or using auxiliary power. The next major technological push will entail scaling up to fully power ships’ primary propulsion systems.

A new Rule note for fuel cells

Considering the international momentum for this technology, Bureau Veritas has developed NR547 for ships using fuel cells. This accounts for the current state of fuel cell technology for ships, an area that has rapidly developed in the recent years.

NR547 focuses on the fuel cell system and is to be used in conjunction with several other Rule Notes for alternative fuels, including ammonia, methane, LPG, methanol and ethanol. NR547 should be combined with NR670 for methanol and ethanol, NR529 for methane, NI647 for LPG and NR671 for ammonia.

Assessing risk and improving safety

Maritime stakeholders developing and using fuel cells must carefully assess the risks associated with their design, construction, installation and operation. Shipyards and equipment manufacturers have to meet specific safety requirements to earn certification for fuel cell systems. Once fuel cells are integrated onboard, ship operators must safeguard crew and ensure proper handling of fuel cell equipment.

An extensive range of risk assessments must be carried out to be granted the “fuelcell” additional service feature, including:

  • HAZID study of fuel cell spaces[2]
  • HAZOP study of fuel cell power system[3]
  • FMECA analysis of fuel cell power installation (if used for essential services)[4]

These assessments aim to identify and mitigate risks to crew members, the environment and the structural integrity of vessels. Fuel cell systems and ship design must limit the risk of explosions, the spread of toxic chemicals and fire outbreaks, ensuring that the safety of the ship is maintained. This is a critical component of NR547, as it covers fuel cell technologies that are adapted to multiple alternative fuel types, each with their own risk profile.

Laurent-Courregelongue-Director of Environment & Technologies Department-BV MO

Environment & Technologies Director

Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore

Our NR547 responds to the latest understanding of safety for alternative fuel-powered fuel cells. But innovation is a continuous, dynamic process, and rules must be updated to reflect technical breakthroughs and feedback from real experiences. While we are delighted to support maritime stakeholders using fuel cells onboard, we know that this set of rules is a step in the challenging journey to decarbonization.


Providing technical excellence for fuel cells

Since the earliest days of fuel cell development, Bureau Veritas has brought its expertise in vessel safety and system integration to the maritime industry. We understand the challenges inherent to designing, building and operating low-emissions ships while protecting crew, passengers and the environment. Our in-depth technical knowledge helps maritime stakeholders streamline their projects starting at the conception stage, and comply with relevant flag administration requirements.

Our fuel cell Rule note responds to the latest advances in fuel cell technology, and incorporates information from the most recent industry-wide collaborations. For ship owners and operators taking the fuel cell route to sustainability, NR547 lays the groundwork for operating safe and sustainable vessels.

[1] Hazard Identification
[2] Hazard and operability study
[3] Failure mode, effects and criticality analysis
[4] International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels