Houlder provided the concept design for 2018-built, UK hybrid battery/diesel-electric ferry Victoria of Wight. (Credit: Wightlink).Houlder provided the concept design for 2018-built, UK hybrid battery/diesel-electric ferry Victoria of Wight. (Credit: Wightlink).

Four UK organisations are to collaborate in a project to investigate the possibilities of flow battery technology for marine applications, writes David Tinsley. The FLO-MAR initiative is backed by funding under the UK Department of Transport’s Clean Maritime Plan.

Flow batteries have the potential to offer fast charging coupled with long-duration, high-capacity energy storage using scalable tanks of electrolyte, but have hitherto not been configured for shipboard installation.

Technical consultancy Houlder, classification society Lloyd’s Register, energy storage specialist Swanbarton, and Southampton-based business consortium Marine South East will work together to study how the design of electric and hybrid vessels can be optimised to accommodate flow batteries for zero-emission propulsion and auxiliary power. The research coalition will assess and validate the advantages of this innovative technology in comparison with existing lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

Houlder will analyse vessel types and service profiles most suitable for flow batteries, and will develop an outline vessel design to verify the benefits. According to David Wing, the company’s director ship design and engineering, “Flow batteries offer an exciting opportunity to increase the electrification of shipping into a wider range of operations, and we look forward to using our practical ship design experience to develop marine flow batteries through feasibility and testing into a commercially viable operational system.”

Swanbarton said that the FLO-MAR consortium considers that the technology is a potentially attractive option for some types of vessel, citing the following:

· The electrolyte tanks can be located anywhere in the hull of the ship or boat. The electrolyte is non-volatile and presents no fire hazard if stored below decks.

· The battery’s power rating and energy storage capacity are independent: one is determined by the size of the electrochemical cell stack, and the other by the electrolyte volume. This makes the technology easily scalable across a range of vessel sizes and duty cycles.

“To decarbonise the marine sector, vessel owners may be unsure which technologies they should be investing in, and what will be the operational and economic implications for their business,” said Swanbarton. “This project will help them choose and provide information on the technical advantages of flow batteries in terms of performance, operation, recharging/refuelling and infrastructure.”

By leveraging its established Approval in principle Methodology, Lloyd’s Register will be able to benchmark the technology for a single vessel design against regulatory requirements, and identify any potential hazards, risks and mitigations.

The UK government announced its Clean Maritime Plan in July 2019, and has recently awarded a total £1.4 million(US$1.7m) to a raft of research projects to promote the development of innovative solutions. The scheme is administered by MarRI-UK, a consortium of British companies, academia and government.

The £69,000 (US$84,400) grant afforded the FLO-MAR endeavour is predicated on its possible contribution to the realisation of a UK transition to a zero-emission future for shipping. Marine South East is lead organisation for the project.

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