Technology talk: Where technology will take us

It’s no secret that fuel efficiency will be a major driver of both profitability and maritime innovations in years to come. Here are some predictions about these technologies from Bernard Twomey, Tim Kent and John Bradshaw.

The sky is the limit with some of the new technologies.

According to the three, DC power systems are becoming more attractive and will continue to be so. “They tend to be on smaller vessels at the moment, but I can see this expanding into the much larger deep-sea going vessels,” says Twomey.

“DC systems have been around for a long time but there hasn’t been much uptake in the last 10 or 15 years. However, with the quest for more fuel efficiency, DC becomes very attractive. A lot of manufacturers are looking at DC.”

But while there are significant benefits to DC, there is also a significant risk, warns Twomey.

“To put it bluntly, we don’t have enough people within the industry with a sound understanding of DC systems. But there is a role there for manufacturers to provide that level of training on their systems. It’s also a role for Lloyd’s Register, to make sure the systems are fundamentally safe, so there has to be a partnership there.”

Multiple energy sources

“We’re going to see multiple energy sources enabled by advances in the electrical technology that’s available on board,” says Kent. “We will have the ability to harvest energy from all sorts of sources, even some solar power. 

“There will never be entirely solar-powered ships. The ratios of available collector area and storage capability to the size of the ship, and the energy required to move it through the sea, just don’t work. But there is absolutely an opportunity to harvest a significant amount of solar energy for a ship, provided you have the means to convert that energy and store it, such that it can then be converted into propulsion or auxiliary power.”

Battery technology

“As I said, we now have the ability to harvest energy, store it on board and reuse it later,” says Kent. “But you can extend energy storage thoughts even further. I don’t quite know where we’ll get to with this, but the machinery space on a ship is very big. With significant advances in battery technology, you could stretch it to its limit. You could even envisage shore-powered ships that rapidly charge or swap out their battery power packs in high volume. Then you won’t need an internal combustion engine for main propulsion. Not tomorrow, next year or next decade, but I think that at some stage in the future – who knows where the capability can take us?”

Remote monitoring and automation

“Whatever we put on board a ship in the future,” says Twomey, “you’ve got to look at it in terms of the way in which the seafarer is now trained to STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping). I would say that the technology now being put on board the ship exceeds the educational requirements from STCW, so there’s a gap. I think there has to be a way of the manufacturers providing that, whether it is remotely or by looking at condition-based maintenance.”

Kent goes even further, saying: “Eventually, the technology will be beyond the reach of the crew; there will be a tipping point whereby all the operational assumptions need to be addressed at the design and build phase.”

“Automation and eventual autonomy will lead to manning and operating expense savings,” adds Kent.”

“Things related to the structure that will drive down power requirements will be important,” says Kent. “So we will see lighter, different-shaped and smoother structures, different types of coatings, as well as optimization of the overall propeller-hull system interaction.”

“One of my areas is emissions and exhaust gas, which is fundamentally changing the shape of the industry. It’s driving alternative fuels like natural gas and methanol, and there are options like exhaust cleaning,” says Bradshaw. 

Tailored solutions

He adds that one of the questions he gets asked a lot by clients is “What is the answer?” “Where I think the industry is entering a revolution, is that there is no answer, no silver bullet for fuel efficiency. 

“It’s very much down to what your ship does and where it goes. The operators have to consider their own unique requirements and develop tailored solutions. That means there’ll probably be a significant degree of technology fragmentation.

“Oil isn’t going to go away and we’ll see natural gas, we’ll see methanol, all sorts of different technologies there.”

Photo: Lloyd's Register
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