Taking a broader view of turbocharging

Christoph Rofka, Vice President – Head of Technology at ABB Turbo Systems, shared his thoughts on digitisation, decarbonisation and low-speed turbocharging in June.
Christoph Rofka, Vice President – Head of Technology at ABB Turbo Systems, shared his thoughts on digitisation, decarbonisation and turbocharging in June.
The Wärtsilä 31 engine, the first medium-speed engine designed to be compatible with two-stage turbocharging
ABB’s Power2 800-M two-stage turbocharging. (Credit: ABB Turbo)
Industry Database

Christoph Rofka, Vice President – Head of Technology at ABB Turbo Systems provided a wider perspective on the rapidly evolving turbocharger landscape in an interview with The Motorship at the 2019 CIMAC Congress.

As digitalisation was one of the recurring themes at the 2019 CIMAC Congress, Christoph Rofka, Vice President – Head of Technology at ABB Turbo Systems began the interview by discussing the very different requirements of combining digital engineers and traditional engineers.

Marine hardware developments have different length of production and product cycles compared with software developers, before you even begin to consider the different safety cultures.

“This means that practices followed in other industries, such as launch and iterate, cannot be applied to the marine industry.” ABB combines a deep understanding of digitalisation tools with a long pedigree in the marine industry. This offers advantages, particularly as it is extending its data service offering. The company launched a fleet-wide extension to its existing engine performance tool, ABB Ability™ Tekomar XPERT, in Vancouver.

A low sulphur future

While there are a number of pressing issues on the digitalisation agenda, such as the need for common standards and the need for the ownership of shipowner data to be defined, Rofka was more focused on the challenges posed by the decarbonisation agenda.

There is no sign of a consensus within the marine industry with regard to what fuels or energy vectors the industry will require in the next few years. This poses challenges for equipment suppliers and OEMS serving the marine industry, but the challenge is acute for key technology suppliers, such as ABB.

“We need to develop a range of solutions that can be completed and commercialised fairly rapidly in response to customer feedback, while simultaneously keeping our portfolio lean and under control and maintaining cost management.”

“if you ask me what a future turbocharger will look like for a future fuel configuration in 2030, I have no idea,” he said. Partly this was due to the myriad of options being discussed by market participants.

Ideally the industry would come together around a single view to avoid a situation where the industry has to manage a wide range of liquids and gaseous fuels.

ABB has been conducting pre-studies to anticipate some of the potential energy vectors in the future – and the internal combustion engine is likely to remain a key technology because of reliability and ability to handle a variety of fuels.

The results of the studies suggest that while carbon neutral e-fuels are likely to emerge in Europe, for example, other users were likely to place a higher value on them than the marine industry. “Whatever the solution is, it will have to supply the whole market,” Rofka said, cautioning against blind assumptions that niche European solutions could supply the global fleet.

“If we face a future where we have to consume a wide range of different fuels, it will be more difficult and more expensive for the industry to handle,” Rofka commented.

Such uncertainty has real world implications for ABB’s R&D focuses. “We can develop solutions to meet future requirements but we cannot scatter ourselves in different directions. The industry needs to come together to offer us some greater certainty.”

Medium-speed – where push meets pull

ABB liaises closely with the main engine designers in different speed segments in order to understand the latest technologies coming down the track. “We try to understand where the main engine developers are focusing, in order to anticipate their likely demands.”

But Rofka added that one of the challenges for ABB's R&D department was identifying how far existing technology could be stretched to meet new requirements, describing the two strands as a “push and pull” dynamic within the department.

He cited ABB’s new high-speed A200-H turbocharger as an example of technological innovation, which has made “a huge step” in lifting the pressure ratio from 6.0, which had been previously accepted as the ceiling, to 6.5.

Rather than develop a new platform, ABB wanted to see if they could stretch the limits of the existing turbocharger series. “Who knows, perhaps we will be able to achieve a maximum pressure ratio of 7.0?” Rofka said, laughing.

However, ABB isn’t conducting academic research, and Rofka noted that the technological limits of single-stage turbocharging have been reached – two-stage turbocharging offers benefits in terms of energy density and fuel efficiency that a single-stage solution simply cannot match.

It was likely that all new medium-speed engine platforms will need to be designed to be compatible with a two-stage turbocharging solution. Rofka gave the example of the first such engine, the Wärtsilä 31 engine, which was designed to be compatible with ABB’s Power-2 800-M two-stage turbocharging and has “really maximised the benefits of the solution”.

Low-speed is a different world

The low-speed market is a different world, Rofka said. This partly reflects the differing technical principles of low speed engines, with scavenging and the absence of gas exchange cycles reducing the potential benefits of two-stage turbocharging solutions. “That is just a matter of simple physics,” Rofka said.

As such, he expects to see continued research into single-stage solutions for the low-speed market for many years to come, with a renewed focus on fuel efficiency likely to follow, particularly if fuel prices rise from their currently comparatively low level.

In the near term, ABB is focusing on offering sequential turbocharging as an option to its customers in the low-speed sector. It launched the Flexible integrated Turbocharging System for Two-Stroke Engines (FiTS2) at Marintec in 2017 but many shipowners and operators have been focused on the regulatory demands in the run up to the implementation of the IMO’s 2020 Sulphur Cap.

“Conceptually, sequential turbocharging is nothing new but our FiTS2 solution now allows switching during operations – we think more operators will focus on the benefits as fuel efficiency becomes a renewed focus after 2020.”

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