Apr 16, 2021 | Clean shipping articles and long reads

By Geir Bjørkeli, Chief Executive Officer, Corvus Energy

Corvus Energy has tapped into Toyota’s 30 years of fuel-cell experience to form a partnership that will enable large-scale production of fuelcell systems for the maritime industry

Bergen-based energy storage company Corvus Energy is to start the development and production of large scale maritimecertified hydrogen fuel-cell systems. Production will be located in Bergen in a tie-up with Toyota as a key partner, which has the ability to supply mass-produced fuel-cell technology. 

Corvus is heading up the collaborative project with Norwegian partners Equinor, shipowners Norled and Wilhelmsen, ship design company LMG Marin, the NCE Maritime CleanTech cluster and R&D institution The University of South-Eastern Norway (USN) to develop and produce modularised and cost-effective proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel-cell systems for the marine market. 

The project has received €5.2m in funding from Norwegian state agency Innovation Norway. The first marine fuel-cell system is scheduled to be fitted on a vessel in 2023 and the product will be marine certified and available for commercial delivery from 2024. 

Fuel-cell modules will be supplied by Toyota, which boasts 30 years of experience in the development and production of fuel cells for the automotive market and other land-based applications. 
Corvus and Toyota signed a partnership agreement in December last year, which gives Corvus access to mature fuel-cell technology while enabling large-scale production with competitive pricing, Corvus CEO Geir Bjørkeli said at a recent presentation. 

Interest in hydrogen for maritime applications has been increasing rapidly and is seen as an important step to reach shipping’s ambitious goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, Toyota’s senior manager strategy and business development, Fuel Cell Business Group, Freddy Bergsma said. 

Reducing the cost of fuel cells and increasing access to the technology is crucial in accelerating the transition. Corvus claimed that this initiative was an important step towards achieving both goals by producing modularised systems not available on a large scale today.

“Adding fuel-cell modules to our product portfolio is  a natural step for Corvus and advances our vision to be the leading supplier of zero-emission marine solutions, said Bjørkeli. “Fuel-cell technology has reached a maturity level where scale-up of systems will be the next step. Toyota is in the forefront of the development and is by far the best partner for us to make this a success.” 

“De-carbonisation is inevitable and at Toyota, we are convinced that hydrogen will play a central role in creating a better future, both environmentally and economically,” added Thiebault Paquet, Toyota Motor Europe’s director of the Fuel Cell Business Group.

“Our recently established Fuel Cell Business Group in Brussels is looking forward to working with Corvus Energy and the consortium members to offer fuel cell solutions for marine applications. This project will play an important role in the development of the hydrogen society.” 


Corvus has set up a dedicated fuelcell division to design and certify the marine fuel-cell system using the Toyota fuel-cell technology as a building block for larger systems. A specific marine control system to join the battery and fuel-cell operation will be developed for easy integration with power management systems from a range of system integrators. 
Backed by stakeholders, such as Norsk Hydro, Equinor, Shell and BW Group, Corvus plans to scale up production. The development partners USN and NCE Maritime CleanTech will contribute knowledge regarding hydrogen safety, while Equinor, Norled, Wilhelmsen and LMG Marin will bring in experience gained from ongoing hydrogen projects, Corvus said. 

At the presentation, Corvus explained that this propulsive energy system was ideal for prime movers fitted on board smaller coastal and short sea-type ships, but the system could also be used for powering auxiliaries in larger deepsea vessels. 

Corvus’ executive vice president and project director Kristian Holmefjord explained that pure hydrogen necessitated the use of a fuel cell, which will be converted to electric power; a liquid organic hydrogen carrier and a vessel using synthetic fuels would use an internal combustion engine (ICE) to convert the energy to rotating power, while ammonia would need a heater to convert to heat power. He also revealed that the company had fuel cell management systems under development to optimise the integrations with power management systems. 

Outlining the development timeline, Holmefjord said that the system is being launched in the first quarter of this year with pilot system trials due to take place during 2023, followed by formal type approval a year later together with the scaling up of an automated factory to manufacture the cells. A second Corvus fuel system — called SOFC/HTPEM — is to be launched in 2025.

In addition, Corvus’ chief commercial officer, Halvard Hauso gave a breakdown of the fuel cell versus the battery size in three different scenarios. He also explained that the company started with just one battery but now has seven. Explaining the breakdown, he said that a 90% fuel cell against a 10% battery, which is ideal for short distance ferries and the like, would incur electricity, hydrogen and possibly other fuels costs.

A 50:50 ratio between the fuel cell and battery, ideal for the majority of vessels, would involve costs, such as fuel cells, an ICE, a battery system and auxiliary equipment. A 10-90% ratio for long distance shipping would need to take into account degradation — wear and tear — servicing and dual energy. He also said that the batteries would need charging and the fuel cells would need feeding. At the presentation, Toyota’s Bergsma stressed that hydrogen will pay a central role in creating a better future. 

He said that Toyota’s fuel cell technology can be re-packaged in a standard modular approach for the marine industry. In addition, the next generation of systems would be lighter, more compact, higher powered and more dense. Modularisation would help the companies with mass production, Bergsma explained, thus giving economies of scale, as seen in the automotive industry. 

He also thought that there would be a market for combusting hydrogen and ammonia, but these alternatives were not as efficient as fuel cells. “They (fuel cells) are easily 50% more efficient,” he stressed, adding that over the next 20 years, fuel cell efficiency would be much greater. 

“There is no doubt that the cost of an energy carrier will be higher in the future, but as the production ramps up, so the costs will come down. The cost of fuel is going to be vital.” 

He thought that a fuel cell was “very scalable”, anywhere from 200-300 kW to 5-10 GW, so would fit the operations criteria of a lot of vessels. Bergsma agreed that today’s market would be near shore, short sea and cross channel type ropaxes. As mentioned, deepsea shipping could make use of the technology for auxiliaries. 

He also advised shipping companies thinking about opting for fuel cell and battery technology to act now. “A waitand-see attitude is very dodgy,” he said. “You had better be first.” The co-operative has already persuaded classification society, DNV GL, soon to become DNV, to become a support partner and all of the major class societies will become involved going forward. 

Bergsma said that other projects are currently underway, including Equinor’s liquid hydrogen development along the West Coast of Norway, while Japan, California and Rotterdam are making moves towards the use of hydrogen as an alternative power source. 

“It will take time to get there, but countries are pushing forward, so we will get there,” he concluded.


Illustrating the potential, Corvus Energy recently won a contract from Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) to supply the energy storage system (ESS) for the first zero-emissions electric “e5 tanker”, currently under construction for Asahi Tanker Co of Tokyo, Japan. 

This battery-powered coastal vessel was designed by e5 Lab Inc, a consortium of Japanese shipping and maritime services companies, including Asahi Tanker, which was set up to build infrastructure services focused on electrically powered ships. She will be the first of two all-electric vessels to be built from the e5 Lab initiative and is expected to enter service as a bunker tanker in Tokyo Bay by 2022. 

The ships will be built by Japanese shipbuilders, KOA Industry Co and Imura Shipyard Co. KHI awarded the contract for the ship’s propulsion system in September of last year and will integrate a Corvus Energy 3,480 kW/h Orca ESS to power the vessel. 

Asahi Tanker, which operates 137 vessels, claimed that the e5 tanker design will achieve zero emissions of CO2 , NOx, SOx, and particulates. In addition, reduced noise and vibration will create a more comfortable work environment for the crew and limit noise pollution in the bay and its surroundings. 

The vessels will also be able to make their battery power available to emergency services in the case of a natural disaster in and around Tokyo Bay.

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