A year to remember?

19 Dec 2016
FinFerries vessel Stella trialled a fusion of advanced sensor technologies as part of the Rolls-Royce led Advanced Autonomos Waterborne Applications project

FinFerries vessel Stella trialled a fusion of advanced sensor technologies as part of the Rolls-Royce led Advanced Autonomos Waterborne Applications project

The onward march of emissions regulations dominated headlines in 2016, but the year was also notable for some important technical advances and engine developments. The Motorship editor Gavin Lipsith picks the highlights from an eventful year.

BALLAST WATER BREAKTHROUGHS

Some readers may be wondering whether a review of the year would not be better presented in the December, rather than the January issue of a magazine. But defining moments can happen even in the last days of the year, as the US Coast Guard proved on 2 December when it granted its first full type approval for a ballast water management system. The award, to Norwegian UV system supplier Optimarin, means that ship owners can finally choose systems that are type approved under both US and the global International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regime. By some estimates up to 40% of the world’s merchant fleet will require US-compliant systems, and type approvals for other units – so far Alfa Laval and DESMI OceanGuard have filed final applications – are bound to follow.

The approval capped a breakthrough year for ballast water management, following the triggering of entry into force of IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention in September. The convention will come into effect on 8 September, after which vessels will have until their first International Oil Pollution Prevention certificate renewal survey to install systems (or potentially their second renewal if their first is before 8 September 2019).

Much needed clarity was also provided at the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting in October when new, more stringent G8 guidelines on approval and certification were finally adopted. The new guidelines are closer to the principles employed by the USCG in its own type approval, further harmonising the global regime, and will help ensure that systems are ready for worldwide operation.

More work is needed guarantee effective enforcement of the IMO treaty and flesh out contingency measures, and the three-year ‘experience gathering phase’ after the treaty comes into force will be a crucial period as most of the world fleet gains its first operational experience of ballast water management systems.

SULPHUR CAP SET

Anyone who believes that statistics are objective missed a lesson during a lunchtime presentation at MEPC 70 in October. Two separate studies on the impact of a global sulphur cap on marine fuel from 2020, though based on near identical data, drew starkly different conclusions.

The official study, commissioned by IMO and carried out by a consortium led by CE Delft, concluded that shortages of compliant low-sulphur fuel were improbable if the cap was introduced in 2020 – although it conceded that some localised shortages would need to be overcome by changes in fuel transport and bunkering patterns. A supplemental report, commissioned by a group of delegations including BIMCO and conducted by Navigistics and EnSys, looked at similar inputs and foresaw huge disruption in both fuel prices and availability. The preferred solution would be a staggered introduction to the global cap, it argued.

In the end the MEPC decided to proceed with the introduction of a global 0.5% sulphur cap from 2020, but assuaged objections from some quarters with a commitment to work further on ensuring a smooth implementation. The decision averted a potentially difficult situation with the European Commission, which had already committed to implementing its own sulphur cap in 2020, and the threat of competing regimes – spelling complexity for ship operators – undoubtedly had some influence on the IMO decision.

Ship operators now have three years to assess their compliance options – either switching to low-sulphur fuel, installing scrubbers while continuing to burn heavy fuel oil or adopting alternative fuels such as LNG. The SOx emission control areas (ECAs) enforced since 1 January 2015 in Europe and North America, with a lower 0.1% sulphur limit, have provided some useful early experiences but have also highlighted the challenges – and the importance – of effective enforcement. But the complexities of global implementation, not to mention its impact on bunker prices and patterns, are of a different scale altogether.

NOX ECA DEBUT

Last year saw the introduction of the first NOx ECAs in North America and the Caribbean, with ships with keels laid after 1 January 2016 required to comply with stricter IMO Tier III limits in those areas. Thanks to some canny keel laying from owners, as well as a more general slowdown in newbuilding, very few vessels entered service last year requiring Tier III NOx abatement. Experience with the two prime methods of reducing NOx emissions, selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), therefore remains somewhat limited for two-stroke engines in particular.

Early feedback on operating with SCR and EGR have not been overwhelmingly positive. A prime example came from the CIMAC engine users working group at the triennial CIMAC Congress in June. Even before myriad operational, crewing and maintenance challenges are tackled, selection of systems itself is by no means straightforward. “It was almost impossible for owners to get a quotation or dimensional drawing for EGR and SCR solutions for two-stroke engines in 2014 and 2015,” the authors noted.

The choice is further complicated by fuel options, the group noted: “If the fuel is free of sulphur, EGR might be the preferred solution. But if the size of the engine increases [beyond] 10MW, SCR seems to be the only offered solution.” The decision of the IMO on the global sulphur cap is therefore likely to have a major impact on the uptake of SCR or EGR. If lower sulphur fuels become more widely available, EGR operation would be simplified, while SCR operation could be more challenging with diverse fuels.

Further operational experience, and ideally some technical simplification, is clearly needed for both methods. That need became all the more pressing at MEPC 70, when applications for two new NOx ECAs from 2021, in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, were accepted.

ALTERNATIVE FUELS

Driven in large part by the environmental regulations discussed above, two-stroke engine designers are catching up with early moves by their four-stroke counterparts, delivering designs that harness the potential of low-flashpoint fuels. Chief among these is LNG. MAN Diesel & Turbo’s first ME-GI engines, a twin conversion project onboard Nakilat’s 266,000m3 LNG carrier Rasheeda, entered service in September 2015. By October 2016 the company was reporting that delivery of dual-fuel engines was part of its “daily routine”, with more than 140 ME-GIs on order.

MAN also provided two alternative fuel firsts in 2016. Its ME-LGI engines were installed on a set of seven methanol carriers chartered by Methaex subsidiary Waterfront Shipping Co, the first vessels to employ methanol burning two-stroke engines. And in November Hartmann Reederei took delivery of the world’s largest liquid ethane carrier. Its ME-GI engine will use boil-off ethane as fuel.

Meanwhile Winterthur Gas & Diesel (WinGD), saw its first low-pressure X-DF engine enter service onboard Terntank product tanker Ternsund in June last year and in July reported that it had so far received 39 firm orders for dual-fuel. The company has cited fuel flexibility as a priority development area, while at the same time stating that it will not develop engines speculatively and will be led by customer demand.

With the exception of LNG, which has a rapidly developing bunker infrastructure and relatively stable, attractive prices, the use of low-flashpoint fuels with two-stroke engines is today confined to operators who have the particular fuel to hand, in other words gas carriers. But they are important test cases and the commercial viability of such fuels may evolve to the point where other merchant vessels can consider them.

ACCELERATING AUTOMATION

Automation in ship technology covers two bases: the electronic control of equipment and the advance towards automated vessels. On both fronts there was significant movement in 2016.

Whether or not you believe automated vessels have a role in the future shipping industry, the work towards that goal is yielding interesting results. Rolls-Royce deserves an honourable mention for its involvement in some of the key projects in the field. The multi-party Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications (AAWA) initiative reached a crucial stage of technical development last year with the trial of sensor fusion technologies on Finferries vessel Stella.

The ferry was fitted with high-tech cameras (both visual field and thermal imaging) and various radar systems, including laser guided radar or Lidar. Combining the technologies is crucial to the advanced situational awareness that will be needed if the project is to succeed in launching a remote controlled and partially autonomous demonstrator vessel by 2018 – but sensor fusion could also enhance safety on manned vessels in the near future. The research findings will also be used when the project team starts to develop control algorithms for autonomous vessel operation.

Rolls-Royce also announced late last year that it would debut its first automated crossing system, on a Norwegian ferry. And in another Norwegian project – making use of the world’s first automated vessels test area designated in Trondheimsfjord – UK company Automated Ships and Kongsberg Maritime revealed that they will be building the first automated offshore vessel, a 35m light-duty utility ship.

The use of electronic control for ship equipment and machinery has been on a steady evolution path for decades, but one field has remained relatively untouched – cylinder lubrication. At an ExxonMobil roundtable hosted by The Motorship in 2015, ship owners expressed interest in automatic cylinder oil monitoring and, eventually, a ‘closed loop’ lubrication system. Last year developments from several companies marked progress towards that goal. Total Lubmarine revealed that it is testing an automated sensor and analysis package that continuously monitors cylinder oil, the Online Reporting System (ORS). And MAN Diesel & Turbo entered the nascent field of on-board lubricant blending, pioneered by companies including Lukoil and Maersk Fluid Technology, with its ACOM unit. With technology solutions proliferating rapidly in this field, it may not be long before ship operators can leave the vital task of maintaining cylinder condition to a machine.

DIGITALISATION DRIVE

Closely connected with electronic control, the trend for digitalisation of ship technology – comprising sensor technology, connectivity and data analytics – stepped up a gear in 2016. Remote condition monitoring of critical equipment is now a real and widely available service, of which ABB’s integrated operations centres, opened in Helsinki, Oslo and Singapore this year, are one example.

Ultimately remote condition monitoring could enable a radical change of propulsion business models. Rolls-Royce and Wärtsilä have both tabled the notion of moving towards a ‘power by the hour’ payment structure, under which operators would pay not for the propulsion plant itself but for the power it generates, with the manufacturer guaranteeing reliable operation and shouldering the burden for repairs and maintenance.

The next step will be true predictive maintenance. In some distinct areas this has already emerged to the point where class societies are taking note. Early in 2016 DNV GL launched its T-MON notation, enabling ships with water-lubricated shaftlines to dramatically extend time between shaft inspections if they use qualifying condition monitoring strategies.

The real benefit will come when holistic vessel monitoring enables operators to plan their maintenance schedules based on big-data analysis of historic and real-time data. One company at the cutting edge of this approach is GE Marine Solutions. The company claims that its SeaStream Insight system, harnessing the processing and analytics capabilities of its Predix industrial internet platform, will enable predictive maintenance for operators once a ship’s ‘historian’ (similar to a voyage data recorder) has built up a database. As we report elsewhere in this issue, the system has been deployed for the first time with Maersk Drilling, and The Motorship understands that GE will be running a trial on two-stroke engine powered merchant vessels soon.

Digitalisation is also having an impact on engine design. Speaking at CIMAC Congress, Christian Poensgen, senior vice president engineering at MAN Diesel & Turbo noted that while engine design was leading to efficiency improvements of around 0.3% each year, the gains through systems, software and engine mapping could reach 6.5% over the next decade.

“Our focus will be to work much more on system integration and big data applications, with efficiency driven more through software solutions than by hardware. Engines have to be built more flexible, but the flexibility has to come through software.”