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Wärtsilä led consortium combines technologies for fuel efficiency

The Naval Architect Jul/Aug 2020SeaTech


Efficiency has become such a buzzword in shipping that one could be forgiven for forgetting what it actually means: achieving the maximum possible energy conversion. Like many engine manufacturers, technology group Wärtsilä, which already boasts the world’s most efficient four-stroke diesel engine with the Wärtsilä 31, accepts that the mechanics of engine design is coming close to peaking. Instead, the emphasis is increasingly turning towards how additional technologies and engine control can further augment propulsive performance.


In March this year, Wärtsilä announced it, together with a consortium of six other industry and academic partners, had been awarded EU funding for a project that’s aiming to achieve significant efficiency gains. Known as SeaTech, the project will simultaneously develop two symbiotic ship engine and propulsion innovations: a precise engine controlling system and a biomimetic dynamic wing mounted on the ship’s bow. When used in synergy, the project believes it could reduce both fuel consumption by 30% and drastically cut SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate matter emissions.


Project owner Jonas Åckerman, director of research and technology development for Wärtsilä, tells The Naval Architect that the project has been in planning for some time. “The two technologies may look completely different, and of course they are, but from an operational point of view by combining them in the same ship there are certain advantages. In general, at Wärtsilä we’re always looking into fund projects which are suitable and whether we have anything in the pipeline which we could utilise.”


The idea of a biomimetic bow wing, which is being developed by other partners in the project, is to augment propulsion in moderate and heavy sea conditions by capturing the wave energy. It’s a concept which has previously been mooted for cruise ships as a means of dampening ship motions, but for the most part has been consigned to academic papers (the consortium’s partners include the National Technical University of Athens, the University of Southampton and the Arctic University of Norway).


However, Wärtsilä’s involvement puts the emphasis squarely upon upscaling into a commercially viable solution. Åckerman explains that the Seatech engine being developed, which is based on existing dual-fuel technology, adopts: “A concept from combustion physics that is providing great advantages from an emissions point of view and overall performance, especially when operating on part load.”


Among the project partners is Norwegian tanker operator Utkilen AS and the synergistic benefits of the two technologies could be of significant value to the shortsea sector, although ultimately it is hoped that commercialisation would expand into deep-sea shipping. The technology will be suitable for newbuilds but also retrofits, where it is estimated that the return on investment could be as much as 400%.


The project officially launched with an online kickoff meeting in June. Anders Öster, who is leading the project for Wärtsilä, admits that the requirements for an EU-funded project can take some adjusting to. “There’s quite a big rule book about running the project... we have a very detailed plan with tasks, deliverables and milestones. We also have more contact with potential customers, shipyards, classification societies and all these big players. But for the EU it’s about bringing more jobs to the market and increasing knowledge by sharing the information we produce.”


But for Wärtsilä the goal is as much about achieving sustainability in a business environment. Although SeaTech is being developed with the expectation that gas will become the dominant marine fuel in the coming years, the technology would also be applicable for some of the emerging alternatives, which the company is actively exploring with other research initiatives.


“As a company we see LNG as a bridging fuel, but bio and synthetic fuels, such as synthetic methane, are coming. In the longer term similar concepts could be developed around ammonia. As such, this project is far from limited,” says Åckerman.