Major project to further develop low-speed gas engines

16 Feb 2011
The Wärtsilä 50DF medium-speed engine can be run either on natural gas or on light fuel oil (LFO) or on heavy fuel oil (HFO)

The Wärtsilä 50DF medium-speed engine can be run either on natural gas or on light fuel oil (LFO) or on heavy fuel oil (HFO)

In late 2010 Wärtsilä initiated a major project to further develop its low-speed engine portfolio to include gas engines, alongside its medium-speed dual fuel engines, as part of the company's strategy.

A new test engine was due to be installed in the Trieste engine laboratory in Italy in March 2011, and engine testing will commence shortly thereafter. The principal aim of the initiative is to strengthen Wärtsilä’s position in gas engine technology, and to further improve its competitive edge in the global marine markets.

The marine market is today characterised by a growing awareness of the need for alternative fuel solutions that can reduce emissions while, at the same time, being commercially viable. Natural gas is currently the alternative fuel offering the biggest potential in this respect. LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) has also attracted some interest but is not a commercially viable alternative due to its prohibitive price.

In a shipping market with alternative bunkers available, dual-fuel engine installations offer the flexibility much sought after by operators. With dual-fuel engines, operators are free to switch between gas or diesel fuels, depending upon price and bunkering availability.

“We believe the time is now right to further develop our natural gas solutions for the merchant fleet at large. Of course, we are aware of the challenges to be overcome as bunkering facilities are not yet in place for starters. A number of other practical challenges need to be addressed, but companies such as SeaCargo have led the way showing the market that it can be done. Others will no doubt follow,” says Lars Anderson, vice president at Wärtsilä Ship Power Merchant.

“That is why we have started a comprehensive research programme, building upon our considerable past experience to develop solutions that meet the broader expectations of the merchant fleet. ‘Fit for ship’ is the leading theme. This means reliability, in that our solutions must be ready for the seven seas, and commercial viability, both in terms of initial investment as well as operating cost. Naturally, the upcoming emissions limits are also part of the equation,” he adds.

Wärtsilä has years of experience and the leading position in dual-fuel engine technology. When equipping the LNG Carrier Venator with a low-speed dual-fuel 7RNMD90 engine in 1973, Wärtsilä (Sulzer) was way ahead of its time. The installation was successful in all aspects, but the market was not yet ready to endorse the concept. Still convinced of the potential that natural gas held, Wärtsilä developed and successfully tested a high-pressure two-stroke gas engine in 1986. Again, the technology was proven but Wärtsilä was once again ahead of its time, and the market was still not ready for it. 

In the mid 1980s, Wärtsilä also developed its first medium-speed high pressure gas engines, the GD series, targeting land-based and marine markets. In the 90s Wärtsilä added the SG and the DF series medium-speed gas engines. On this occasion, the timing was right and the superior technology and performance soon made Wärtsilä the unchallenged market leader for medium-speed dual-fuel applications. Of these, the DF marine installations alone have accumulated over 1,000,000 running hours, with close to 60 vessels in service.

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