The rules governing shipping emissions are now stricter than ever. At the same time, shipping companies are becoming greener and their passengers more environmentally aware. For maritime and inland shipping, the dawn of this new era is full of challenges.

Fuel cell systems in shipping applications already offer a great way of protecting the environment and mitigating climate change. On larger seagoing vessels, they can be used to generate electric power and heat but also for energy-efficient cooling as part of the ship’s hotel load. On smaller ships, they are already sufficiently evolved capacity-wise to meet both total propulsion and total power requirements. Furthermore, these technologies are helping to future-proof Germany's shipping industry. Today, shipyards, shipping companies, fuel cell manufacturers and classification societies are scrambling to design and develop suitable systems, secure in the knowledge that – above all – tomorrow’s ships will be zero-emission vessels.

e4ships, Phase 1 (2009-2016)

The previous lighthouse project e4ships literally aimed to test the waters by pioneering the use of fuel cells for electric power generation on board larger ships. Its aim: to reduce emissions such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter, thus helping to mitigate climate change and protect the environment.

Cooperation ventures

Keen to design and test fuel cell systems customised to the shipping industry's specific needs, leading companies in the shipping and fuel cell industry jumped at the chance of engaging in pre-competitive cooperation.


Ship building and ship transport are highly regulated. The national, European and international rules governing safety are so tight they tend to discourage any kind of technical innovation in the shipping sector. However, low flashpoint fuels, such as hydrogen or other primary energy carriers used in fuel cell technology, first have to be approved by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) before they can be used on seagoing ships.

Fuel cell principle

Unlike conventional engines, fuel cells operate on the principle of 'cold combustion'. This is a highly efficient electrochemical process that does not involve any mechanical wear and tear.