Interview by Dr. Vasilis Gregoriou,

Chairman and CEO, Advent
Technologies Holdings Inc, Director and Chairman of the Board,
National Hellenic Research Foundation (NHRF)

to Theodora Iliadi

Methanol is a cost-effective alternative fuel characterised by low emissions and is available in more than one hundred ports worldwide. Having significant cost and safety advantages, it can achieve the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) maritime emission reduction targets as it offers a reduction of more than 95% in sulfur oxide (SOx) and particulate emissions compared to conventional marine fuels, as well as a reduction in 60% on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

Advent is a leading company in the production of next generation fuel cells. It essentially converts hydrogen and other alternative fuels, such as methanol, into “green” electricity with zero emissions and zero carbon dioxide emissions and is expected to replace internal combustion engines and generators.

You propose fuel cell technology as a way for greener energy. What is the energy source of this technology? What are the benefits of this procedure and how can it be applied to the shipping industry?

Advent holds the IP for next-generation high-temperature proton exchange membrane (“HT-PEM”) technology, enabling fuel cells to function at high temperatures and under extreme conditions. A fuel cell is an electrochemical device that uses hydrogen as input and produces clean energy and heat. Our “Any Fuel. Anywhere.” low-cost, fuel-flexible fuel-cell technology allows us to use pure hydrogen, as well as any hydrogen-carrying fuels like methanol, natural gas, LPG, and ammonia, for propulsion or auxiliary power systems in shipping. Some of our key areas of applications include:

  • Propulsion and power for smaller vessels (leisure and sailing boats, ferries, and inland river vessels).

  • Redundant power to existing power applications, i.e., replacing an existing diesel generator.

  • Power for auxiliary loads on larger vessels.

  • Cold ironing power to vessels, at port.

The RiverCell project proposes a practical solution for a hybrid electric energy system for inland waterway ships using fuel cells in confined maritime applications.

Why did you choose methanol as one of the sources of clean energy for the shipping industry? What are the advantages compared to other forms of alternative fuels?

At Advent, we recognise methanol as an outstanding energy delivery mechanism and a unique storage medium. Methanol is an excellent hydrogen carrier and easily releases hydrogen through a catalytic process using a fuel reformer. Methanol’s use as a clean alternative to fossil fuels has significantly risen over the last years, since it offers a clear pathway to drastically cutting emissions. Besides being effectively stored in ships, methanol is widely available to the market through existing infrastructure and its distribution network is similar to that of conventional fuels. At the same time, it constitutes one of the safest and most cost-effective marine fuels. All the above have led us to believe that methanol can play a critical role in accelerating decarbonisation across the shipping industry.

How is fuel cell technology competitive compared to conventional forms of energy?

To reach the goal of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions control and pollution control, the world will need renewable energy, energy storage solutions, and renewable fuels like hydrogen. Our highly efficient, resilient, zero-emission fuel cells operate under extreme humidity and air quality, performing in places no other energy solution can. In addition, they operate quietly, have a flexible and modular design with no moving parts, and their use can lead to a significantly lower need for Maintenance, Repair, and Operations (MRO), eventually resulting in a competitive total cost of ownership (TCO). At the same time, their use combined with batteries can significantly lower the volume that the batteries occupy when used as a stand-alone, since batteries can be continuously re-charged by the fuel cells during operations.

Has the technology used by Advent been tested and at what level?

We are proud to be one of the partners in RiverCell, a demonstration project dedicated to the design and development of a fuel cell hybrid system for inland and short sea shipping vessels. The project, which started in 2015 and was completed at the end of 2021, consisted of experienced partners throughout the maritime sector. As part of the demonstration, a section of a river cruise vessel was set up on dry land at Neptun Werft in Rostock, Germany. There, the prototype of Advent’s Serene marine fuel cell unit was successfully integrated into a modern hybrid DC electric energy grid, which was connected to all relevant ship systems, including battery storage and a conventional diesel genset. Within the framework of the project, in December 2021, we announced that our fuel cell unit passed safety testing and a safety assessment completed by DNV, one of the world’s leading classification societies. In addition to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the hybrid concept demonstrated an increase in both safety and efficiency. Furthermore, we are currently participating in a clean energy project in Denmark, where, along with our partners, we aim to power the ferry service between the Danish Island of Læsø and Frederikshavn with a low-carbon propulsion system. In addition, we have progressed to advanced discussions with renowned energy technology and shipping companies to develop fuel cell-based auxiliary power and emergency power systems, for a variety of applications in different types of ships.

The transition to an era of alternative fuels and the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions is a road full of obstacles and pitfalls. Shipping is at a crossroads facing tectonic changes similar to those of the transition from sailing ships to steam-powered ships. Do you believe the shipping industry is on the right path towards decarbonisation?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has already adopted mandatory measures to reduce emissions of GHS from international shipping to support the UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 to combat climate change and decarbonise shipping by 2050. From their end, shipping companies have started acting to be well-prepared for this inevitable transition to zero-emission technologies. The challenge is here and I am confident that innovative technologies such as Advent’s fuel cells, combined with operational solutions applicable to ships, will be adopted to uptake and implement the energy-efficiency measures for shipping.

This article is published in the May/June 2022 issue of Greek Business File, available here.