German River Touring Boat Uses Clean Fuel Cell Technology

What is deemed the world’s first passenger ship powered by hydrogen fuel cells has quietly been plying the waters of Germany’s city of Hamburg now since 2009. The result of a collaborative project between the European Union and a coalition of other partners public and private to develop cleaner small cruise ships for navigating rivers in Europe, the FCS Alsterwasser is said to now have clocked about 1900 hours, or over 7000 miles, since it has been in service.

The ship, reported Maritime Propulsion (hat tip to Green Optimistic), is owned by ATG (Alster-Touristik GmbH) and used to take up to 100 passengers on the river Alster and the “inner-city waterways” of Hamburg, where it is based. It is propelled by two hydrogen fuel systems making use of 12 hydrogen fuel tanks. It can also fall back to a 560 V lead-gel battery should an alternative power source be needed.

FCS Alsterwasser

image via Alster-Touristik GmbH

The idea of the FCS Alsterwasser is captured in the concept of something called Zemships [PDF]. It is a model envisioned by the EU to “test practical emission-free ship operation and to promote the use of its technology for maritime applications.” This includes not only testing the viability of how these ships operate on the riverways, but also examining the corresponding infrastructure necessary to fuel and maintain boats powered by fuel cells.

Designed at the Oortkaten shipyard and powered by fuel cell technology from Proton Motor [PDF], the FCS Alsterwasser apparently had to be specially configured for the usual comfort requirements of passengers as well as the spatial needs of the clean energy technology. The electric motor which propels the boat gets about 100 kW, or 130 horsepower, of energy from the hydrogen cells, but to make sure the power is continuous throughout a trip requires that 50 kg of the gaseous fuel be stored in 350-bar pressure tanks on board. This is enough to cover up to three days of operation.

What’s described as a “sophisticated energy management system” helps to determine whether power is coming from the fuel cells or the battery. Refueling the ship at its base station takes about 12 minutes, and its been recorded for 2012 the FCS Alsterwasser has had a C02 savings of around 13.300 kg.

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.

1 Comment

  • Reply November 5, 2012


    “C02 savings of around 13.300 kg.” Compared to what? If you mean a diesel engine then, sorry, but you have ignored (as everyone does) the fact that the H2 used to power the boat is derived from natural gas – like 95% or more of all H2. This means that in CO2 terms, the boat is even dirtier than a diesel powered one due to the reforming or ‘cracking’ process used to make H2.

    Why on earth not just get rid of the (notoriously dangerous) H2 and all its associated gubbins and install a lithium iron phosphate battery pack instead? I gather a days ferrying equates to around 300kWh of power (allowing for the fuel cells awful efficiency rate of about 45%). Well, 400kWh @ 560V of LiFePO4 cells can be bought, today, off the shelf, for around US$90k in the EU ( ). Considering the fuel cell setup in this boat would cost at least 3 times that figure (probably a LOT more), that is a huge saving and would pay for about 300 years of electricity to run the thing!

    What’s more, the battery would only use about one fifth of the volume used by the fuel cells and H2 storage.

    I really don’t think anyone has ‘done the math’ on this one! MW

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