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Clean hydrogen power that could lower emissions and reduce energy consumption will be coming to the Port of Honolulu next year after the completion of a new fuel cell technology demonstration, one that could lead to a commercial technology for ports worldwide.

The work comes after last year’s study and analysis that confirmed the viability of hydrogen fuel cells to provide auxiliary power to docked or anchored ships. Hydrogen researchers at Sandia National Laboratories joined with several partners in the follow-up project, which will result in a portable, self-contained hydrogen fuel cell unit that can float on a barge, sit on a dock or go to wherever it needs to go to provide electrical power.

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Ports have been a major source of water and air pollution in the U.S. but remained relatively unregulated until recent years. As ports have begun to expand and their impact on the environment has become more apparent, port operators face a variety of regulations. There are some ports that have begun to enact sustainability goals or adopt green practices, and that’s where fuel cells can play a role.

“No one has ever built this kind of custom unit for this purpose,” said Sandia’s project manager, Joe Pratt. The unit, he said, will fit inside a 20-foot shipping container and will consist of four 30-kilowatt fuel cells, a hydrogen storage system and power conversion equipment.

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The system will end up deployed by Young Brothers, Ltd., one of the project partners and a primary shipper of goods throughout the Hawaiian Islands. The unit is undergoing detailed engineering and design through mid-2014 and, after fabrication, assembly and training for Young Brothers operators, will be operational during a six-month deployment in early 2015. Young Brothers, the project’s demonstration partner, is a subsidiary of Foss Maritime Company, a shipping firm with strong environmental and financial interests in the project.

The Hawaii project’s sponsors are the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration.

After conducting a study of various ports in 2013, Sandia analyzed Young Brother’s shipping operations in more detail. Like many operators, the company uses diesel engine generators to provide power to refrigerated containers.

“We compared the efficiencies of their diesel engines versus fuel cells, studied the energy efficiencies at various power levels and estimated the savings and reductions in emissions that would be realized if they were to convert to a fuel cell-powered operation,” Pratt said. Analyses show when generators are frequently producing less than maximum power, such as in the Hawaii application, the efficiency advantage of fuel cells compared to the combustion engine increases, he said.

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