A light float, operated by Trinity House, has been equipped with a methanol-powered fuel cell as part of a trial to ensure onboard aids to navigation (ATON) are kept fully operational prior to dry dock and repair (DD&R) this summer. 
Marking the entrance from the Irish Sea into Liverpool, the Light Float 2 (Bar) is an unmanned boat-like structure located on the Liverpool bar at the start of the Mersey. Light floats are often used in waters where strong streams or currents are experienced, or if greater elevation of the light source is required to aid visibility for mariners.
Supplied by Hungerford-based Fuel Cell Systems, the EFOY Pro 2400 Duo (110W) fuel cell ensures the light float’s batteries are kept fully charged. This provides a constant source of power for the ATONs – a main light with a 12 nautical mile range and a radar transponder – or RACON.
Peter Dobson, engineering manager for Trinity House commented: “It’s important that this light float, which also marks the point where pilots embark ships entering Liverpool Docks, is kept fully operational. We were alerted to a gradual drop in the batteries’ capacity, indicating that they were probably coming to the end of their life and that the solar PV panels fitted to the light float simply weren’t providing enough charge during the winter months. We immediately arranged to have the batteries re-charged using a portable generator but this proved inefficient, time-consuming and costly. In order to meet the standards set by the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) of 99.8% availability, for category 1 ATONs, we required a remote power solution that would allow the light float to operate effectively before its scheduled summer maintenance in dry dock following six years at sea.
“Should the batteries fail this would result in us having to divert one of our vessels from its routine buoy tender maintenance schedule to recharge the batteries in situ which could take two to three days. However, the fuel cell operated flawlessly, keeping the batteries in a nominal charged state, allowing the ATONs to be kept operational. We now intend to carry out further fuel cell trials following the success of this one. If they too are successful then Trinity House will consider integrating this technology, where suitable, as part of the hybrid energy mix to power additional ATONs throughout England, Wales and the Channel Islands.”
Tom Sperrey, managing director of Fuel Cell Systems added: “This is another successful demonstration of how fuel cells are being used by the maritime industry to provide a remote source of constant, reliable back-up power. From November to January, the fuel cell ran for 10 hours each night, maintaining the batteries’ charge. This lightweight and compact unit allows enough methanol fuel to be stored onboard the light float for four to five months of continuous operation. As there are very few moving parts there’s little that can go wrong with it, even in this demanding environment.”
Image provided by Tamsin Lambert.