Productive outcome from Pan-European engine research project

The final meeting of Hercules-B project partners, at the MAN Diesel House in Copenhagen The final meeting of Hercules-B project partners, at the MAN Diesel House in Copenhagen

As the third phase (Hercules C) of the European engine research project gets the go-ahead, David Tinsley reports on the work undertaken so far.

Ranking as perhaps the most ambitious and largest collaborative marine engineering research endeavour ever undertaken, the Hercules programme is set to enter a third phase in 2012. The completion of the second phase, as the Hercules-Beta (B) project, was marked by the convening of the final, plenary meeting hosted by MAN Diesel & Turbo in Copenhagen during December 2011.

The considerable range of studies and tests undertaken over a three-year period by the pan-industry, Hercules-B research consortium supported by universities has clearly added to the European knowledge base, and produced a raft of tangible and commercially-exploitable results. The initiative was technically led by the world’s two leading marine engine brands and backed by substantial EU funding. Outcomes have been such as to have inspired the leading lights to press for EU financial sponsorship for continuation of the programme into a third phase, Hercules-C, with a stronger focus on bringing the various strands of work together into integrated solutions and systems.

Since its conception more than 10 years ago, and the implementation of the Alpha research phase in 2004, Hercules’ intertwined thematic aims of drastic exhaust emissions reduction and increased fuel efficiency, ultimately bearing on future engine and component design, have become ever-more relevant to producers and shipowners. The Hercules research targets include a reduction of 70% in NOx emissions and 50% in other emission components (relative to levels in 2000), and a 10% lowering in specific fuel consumption, by 2020.

A pragmatic, results-orientated approach has been adopted throughout the programme, wherein EU financial support has been predicated on Hercules’ environmental and efficiency goals, and on ultimately strengthening European technological capabilities through industry-wide collaboration. More than 50% of the combined budget of €59million for the first two phases has been ascribed under EU and Swiss research funding provisions. A grant agreement for Hercules-C has been signed with the EU, and the start date was 1 January 2012.

The nature and extent of achievements attributed to the R&D work carried out to date is widely viewed as having endorsed the level of expenditure entailed, as regards both company resources and public funds.

The significance of the Hercules programme also derives from the fact that it has drawn together two fiercely competitive organisations, engine market leaders MAN Diesel & Turbo and Wärtsilä Corporation, in finding common solutions to new challenges. However, while top-level research results are shared at the regular technical meetings of the project partners, access to company-specific information and product details is restricted.

Hercules-A had been launched in early 2004 with an overall budget of €33.3million. Public funding amounted to €17.8million, comprising €5million awarded by the EU under the sixth framework programme, and €2.8million from the Swiss government (Bundesamt fuer Bildung und Wissenschaft). The Alpha phase was completed in September 2007. The Hercules-B project was implemented in September 2008 with a budget of €26million. Authorised for support under the seventh framework programme, this received the same amount of EU funding as the first phase, at €15million, despite the smaller overall budget.

Hercules-B has involved 31 partners plus an External Associates Group comprising seven organisations, including three prominent European shipowning groups. About 60% of the participation was represented by industry, with the balance of 40% made up of universities and research institutes.

Project management has been in the hands of the MAN/Wärtsilä joint venture ULEME, based at MAN‘s Augsburg headquarters. The work module-type approach has proved an effective organisational strategy, given the scale and extent of the programme. The Beta phase encompassed 54 sub-projects grouped into 13 task packages and seven work packages covering the entire spectrum of marine engine technology. Professor Nikolaos Kyrtatos from the Laboratory of Marine Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens acted as project coordinator, as was the case for Hercules-A. According to Wärtsilä, the Hercules programme is viewed within the European Commission(EC) as a good example of an efficiently-managed project.

The Hercules-C follow-on scheme was approved by the EC in November 2011, and is receiving an EU contribution of €9.4million through the seventh framework programme. This third phase will span three years, but the total budgetary requirement is lower at around €17million, reflecting a less extensive remit based on 22 partners, a lower number than before.

The Beta project has built on the studies conducted in Hercules-A, which included extreme mean effective pressure(MEP) design parameters, combustion modelling and visualisation, thermodynamics of ‘hot‘ engines, multistage turbocharging, engine-internal emission reduction techniques, aftertreatment, tribology and control systems.

The main outcome of Hercules-A was the evaluation of different technologies for emissions reduction and efficiency improvements, and the definition of areas for development. At the same time, research environments were fostered in universities and physical tests were conducted. In Hercules-B, both analytical investigations and prototypes have been refined, and real progress has been made along the path from the development of selected technologies towards exploitable product and system applications.

Through analytical investigations and prototype-based studies, including shipboard tests, valuable results have been produced under Hercules-B with regard to two-stage turbocharging. This technology is regarded as a groundbreaking advance which could lead to a new era of environmentally sound solutions and competitive lifecycle costs for large marine diesel engines.

Over the course of the project, several test engines have been either set up or adapted to a two-stage turbocharging system. The respective research platforms have encompassed both two-stroke and four-stroke engine types.

Other important results have included MAN Diesel & Turbo’s development of ‘transparent’ cylinder covers for both two-stroke and four-stroke engines, under the project’s work related to experimental and numerical combustion analysis. Equipped with instrumentation for laser-optical investigations, and complemented by the development of procedures and engine control strategies for safe and reproducible, optical engine tests, the arrangements constitute a major step forward in studying in-cylinder fuel spray, gas flow, flame properties and combustion. Sapphire windows have been used for these special covers manufactured for a 500mm-bore two-stroke diesel and a 320mm-bore, four-stroke unit.

The development of a camless research engine was stimulated by Hercules-B, to support the mathematical modelling of fuel spray patterns and combustion processes. The engine is equipped with electro-hydraulic valves controlled electronically rather than by a camshaft of predetermined design. This speeds up engine tests, and also provides considerable flexibility, as valve timings can be easily re-programmed in accordance with test requirements.

A milestone was reached in April 2011, when a record peak firing pressure of 300bar(30MPa) was attained with the EVE medium-speed test engine sited at Aalto University in Finland. The achievement set a new experimental basis for combustion engine performance development and emission reduction, under work conducted by a Finnish team comprised of the university, Wärtsilä, and piston maker Componenta Corporation. The studies formed part of the extreme parameter engine work package of Hercules-B.

Tribology optimisation work pursued under Hercules-B has yielded tangible results in the shape of new designs of piston ring and cylinder guide shoe bearings claimed to offer a 25% reduction in friction and corresponding improvement in wear properties and increased service life.

At the final meeting of the Hercules-B project partners on 7 December, exploitable results were summarised and possible timespans for realisation were identified for each item. While the development of ’extreme parameter’ and ’low-friction’ marine engines is more long-term, readily-applicable results were attributed to those areas of work completed with regard to more efficient turbocharging, combustion process modelling, power optimisation tools and advances in engine control. The highest proportion of exploitable items were seen as realisable in a medium timespan, including new designs of pistons, rings and bearings for engines with extreme parameters, ’intelligent’ multistage turbocharging, EGR/CGR components, high pressure boiler compounding system, and an ’intelligent’, adaptive engine management system.

One of the main arguments for Hercules-C is the need for integration of the multitude of different engine technologies identified under Hercules-A and Hercules-B, and the development of new optimisation techniques and solutions.

Other proposed research areas concern the factors affecting engine reliability and engine lifetime. “Green” product lifecycle technologies will be introduced to maintain the technical performance of engines throughout their operational lifetime. This includes advanced materials and tribology developments to improve safety and reliability, as well as sensors, and monitoring and measurement technologies to improve the controllability and availability of marine power plants.

Anticipated key themes for Hercules-C are accordingly as follows:

  • Advanced injection, injection spray and combustion experiments and models;
  • Integrated emission control technologies;
  • New materials and tribology; and
  • Adaptive engine control and lifetime reliability.

The integration of technologies being developed through the collaborative research will be pivotal to the creation of a new generation of marine engines and associated systems offering a considerable reduction in pollutant emissions.

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