Comparison of alternative fuels and propulsion systems for short distance navigation

Type: Master project (joint project with Damen Shipyards)

Period: 2019 spring

Project directors: Prof. François Maréchal (IPESE-EPFL)

Assistants: Dr. Francesco Baldi (IPESE-EPFL)

Project team: Erik-Jan Boonen (Damen Shipards)

Related project: ODes aCCSES


With increasing concern for the anthropogenic contribution to climate change, all human activities will be asked to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. This will also include shipping, that today contributes to close to 3% of global CO2 emissions.

Vessels operating on short distances (here defined as lower than 1-day sailing time) constitute a particularly interesting case. While Diesel-powered vessels still constitute the standard, there are two main technological developments that promise to become a solution for zero-emission, short-sea shipping duties:

  • The recent improvements brought from the car industry have made batteries a potential solution for many applications. The use of batteries ensures low operational costs (as electricity is generally purchased at much lower cost per kWh compared to traditional fuels), and a high generation efficiency, while also providing a good mean to increase the penetration of renewable energy in the energy systems. The main downside of battery-powered ships is the trade-off between the sailing distance, the number of charging stations, and the high investment and weight of batteries that, despite the recent development.
  • Hydrogen has become more and more of an interesting fuel, giving his carbon-free nature and the possibility of feeding it to fuel cells, now finally a mature technology showing high efficiency and no pollutant emissions. Current concerns however relate to the size, weight and cost of the system, particularly of the fuel cells, and to the technical and regulatory challenges of having hydrogen on board.

Project description

The scope of this work is to model, evaluate and compare different solutions for propulsion systems for short distance navigation, based on the above concepts. The work should be conducted with a mid-term industrialization in mind, hence including not only efficiency as measure, but also cost, reliability, and commercial readiness considerations. The work will be conducted in close collaboration with a shipyard, Damen Shipyards, who will provide both practical case studies of interest, and a discussion partner for ensuring that the project will be able to address the proposed problem with a solution-driven mindset.

The project will include the following phases:

  • An initial optimization of the performance of systems based on the two proposed technologies (batteries and hydrogen, or any hybridization of the two) aiming at determining the most promising setup for a given route / operational profile
  • A comparison of the two concepts from a quantitative (cost, efficiency) and qualitative (technology readiness, reliability, etc.) perspective
  • Detailed design (choice of component type and size) for the chosen most convenient design.

The expected end-results of the study are:

  • A set of models, and a modelling-optimization framework, for the evaluation of alternative propulsion systems and fuels given as input the expected characteristics of the case under study (in terms of system description and expected operations). The tools should be developed in Matlab, or in open-source software so that the results can be easily reproduced by Damen.
  • An analysis of the pros and cons of the proposed solution(s), together with practical considerations of what type of case study they would be optimally suitable for (e.g. based on sailing distance, number of stops, etc.)
  • A preliminary design solution (size of components, location of charging stations) for the identified most promising alternative


Work structure

The project will be performed under the supervision of Francesco Baldi, researcher at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, expert in optimization of ship energy systems. There will be regular meetings with Erik-Jan Boonen and Peter Rampen at Damen Shipyards, to check the development of the work. Additional co-supervisors from other institutions and universities might be included.

The IPESE laboratory is located in the Sion EPFL campus. Travels from Lausanne to Sion are compensated by EPFL.


How to apply

If interested, please take contact with Dr. Francesco Baldi attaching your CV, Cover Letter and transcript of records (Bachelor’s and Master’s).