Research project eyes fuel savings for container ships

Future container ships could combine wind, solar and battery power to save fuel and cut emissions thanks to a new research project.

Engineers at Newcastle University are leading a £3m European scheme to develop an energy management system for ships, which could also use waste heat recovery and gas recycling, as well as plugging in to shore-generated electricity.

The Newcastle team is also involved in two other projects funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), developing new technology for saving energy and reducing pollutants, and studying how ships could travel at much slower speeds.

“We’re looking at operations in and around ports and related to manoeuvring because that’s where a lot of emissions have the biggest impact”

Prof Tony Roskilly

Worldwide shipping produces more than 1,000 million tonnes of CO2 each year, approximately 4.5 per cent of the global total and double the amount produced by aviation. Around 60 per cent of this comes from bulk carriers and tankers.

The aim of the INOMANS²HIP project, which Newcastle is helming, is to integrate new energy technologies used in other sectors with shipping’s existing power and propulsion systems, said project leader Prof Tony Roskilly.

‘We want to develop a new energy management system and the guidelines for the best way to produce one. Hopefully we will be producing a system that could be commercialised,’ he told The Engineer.

This would allow different energy sources to be selected according to operational needs while others were left in stand-by mode so they could be employed according to demand.

The Technologies and Scenarios for Low Emission Shipping (TEFLES) project, which includes Newcastle and several European academic and industrial partners, will focus on energy recovery and after-treatment technologies for reducing emissions.

This will include energy-recovery devices and exhaust gas cleaning methods to reduce nitrogen oxide gases (NOx) and other particulates, for example, through selective catalytic reduction or absorption.

‘In particular we’re looking at operations in and around ports and related to manoeuvring because that’s where a lot of emissions have the biggest impact because they fall on land close to highly populated areas,’ said Roskilly.

This will include studying the transfer of shore-generated power to the ships so they can switch their engines off while in port, a practice increasingly pursued by cruise ships.

The final project, Ultra Slow Ships (ULYSSES), will study the logistics of transporting goods in greater numbers of ships but travelling at much slower speeds in order to conserve fuel.

The aim is to consider shipping as a pipeline with a constant flow of goods rather than aiming to transport them as quickly as possible, said Roskilly.

‘As you increase the speed of ships, the amount of power required is a cubic function of that so you can make enormous savings in fuel and therefore emissions by going at a slower speed.’

The team will also have to consider the impact on the ships themselves, which are optimised for faster velocities and harder to steer as the speed comes down.

The European Commission is providing a total of around £9m for the projects, which will each last three years.

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