Foto di una nave in mare
Research & Innovation

Sailing towards decarbonisation with the SOFFHICE project

Logo del progetto SOFFHICE

Maritime transport is a substantial CO2 emitter, representing about 4% of total CO2 emissions in EU. In 2019, 114.6 million tonnes of CO2were emitted by 12,117 ships circulating in European territorial waters, i.e. 38% of the world traffic of merchant ships over 5 thousand tonnes (data source European Commission Annual Report). The predominant reliance on heavy fuel oil (69%) in the existing maritime fleet underscores the urgency for innovative solutions for its decarbonisation.Initiatives within the European Green Deal, including the expansion of emissions trading scheme and the FuelEU Maritime program, aim to kickstart the challenging decarbonization process within the sector.

Aligned with global efforts, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set ambitious targets, striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050, alongside a 70% reduction in carbon intensity compared to 2008 levels.

To meet these ambitious targets, innovative solutions and a holistic approach to energy-efficient vessel retrofitting and design are imperative. The SOFFHICE (SOFC Hybridization with Internal Combustion Engine fuelled by Natural gas for maritime applications) project, coordinated by Politecnico and funded by the PRIN PNRR initiative as part of the Next Generation EU plan for a duration of 24 months, aims to explore an innovative, low-emission energy supply solution for the shipping sector.

The project is a collaborative effort between Politecnico, the University of Genova and the University of Bologna, and is coordinated by Politecnico di Torino, thanks to the work of a research team from the Energy Department “Galileo Ferraris”-DENERG led by Marta Gandiglio in collaboration with Massimo Santarelli, Paolo Marocco and Gabriele Peyrani, as part of the activities of the STEPS-Synergies of Thermo-chemical and Electro-chemical Power Systems.

The core of the maritime propulsion system investigated by SOFFHICE involves the coupling of a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) with an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). This approach opens avenues for highly efficient and emission-free alternatives, fuelled by a diverse array of decarbonized fuels.

SOFFHICE, with a total budget of 300 k€, centers its focus on investigating the retrofit of ships, with short-distance ferries in lakes or Italian minor islands serving as real case studies. The project's dual-fold integration goal strives to maximize ICE efficiency and minimize emissions during open-sea navigation, while emphasizing SOFC operation in ports and coastal areas to reduce pollutants (nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, particulate).

The project's roadmap includes the design of a SOFC+ICE ferry through a comprehensive feasibility study. Partners will model and study the interaction of the two technologies, considering thermodynamics and control aspects. Guidelines for optimal sizing of the SOFC and ICE energy systems will be developed to ensure efficient operation, suitable for vessels of different sizes. The analysis aims to investigate a variety of scenarios involving different fuel feedings, from natural gas to hydrogen, methanol, and ammonia.

In this framework, Politecnico will explore the interaction of the two technologies (SOFC and ICE) involved in the hybrid propulsion system, providing guidelines for the optimal sizing under different scenarios in terms of vessel typology and size. Politecnico will also assess the performance of the innovative propulsion system considering different fuels (natural gas, hydrogen, methanol, and ammonia) from both a technical and environmental perspective.

The project plays a pivotal role in our ongoing research within the STEPS research group” – explain the members of the research group – “focusing on the decarbonization of hard-to-abate sectors like industry and heavy-duty transport. Specifically, the intricate process of decarbonizing maritime activities demands substantial efforts in technology development, encompassing electrochemical technologies and storage solutions. Our commitment extends to a holistic assessment that spans from the technology level (electrochemical system and storage solutions) to the entire supply chain (from fuel production to end-use), including technical, economic and environmental assessments.”