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Vindskip Ved Kai

Tomorrow’s world – closer than you think

Reality and science fiction often come together on unlikely terms; but as technology and innovation advance unchecked, so new solutions are found for old problems. Here we look at some of the most recent technology stories that have implications in the shipping industry. Today’s science fiction becomes tomorrow’s technology.

Vindskip – sci-fi or future?

Using the concept of apparent wind as a motive force, the Norwegian company Lade AS has developed designs for an innovative new vessel, the Vindskip.

The Vindskip (meaning ‘wind ship’) is a hybrid merchant vessel concept with a hull shaped like a symmetrical aerofoil. The apparent wind will generate an aerodynamic lift, providing forward motion. Lade AS says this concept is particularly relevant to dry cargo ship types such as ro-ro, ro-pax, PCTC, passenger and container vessels.

The vessel’s route would be largely software driven, based on the best weather and wind routeing to provide optimal speeds so that the LNG-driven electric propulsion system needs only minimal use once the vessel is up to speed.

Propulsion of the ship will vary between wind and power. However, a cruise control will balance the electric system so that it works dynamically together with the wind power system.

There is clearly a lot of work still to do before this innovation hits the water; and with the new low sulphur emission rules and relatively high bunker prices, it has generated a lot of interest. It would be an interesting diversion from the increasingly large containerships now under construction.


Microbubbles to reduce environmental impact of shipping

Research released at the end of 2014 seems to indicate that smaller bubbles in ships’ wakes could help counteract the effects of climate change. The theory says that smaller bubbles create a brighter wake and not only reflect more sunlight back into space but also last longer on the surface of the ocean than larger bubbles. Some ideas for geoengineering – or climate engineering– are often discounted as implausible, but the microbubbles idea could become a reality, as the technology already exists.

The bubbles would need to be 10 to 100 times smaller than their current size and this could easily be achieved by retro-fitting aerosol technology to vessel sterns. It was discovered that by introducing this technology on 32,000 vessels, the surface temperature of the ocean could be reduced by 0.5°C.


Solar-powered ports

More and more ports are using solar power in an effort to reduce emissions. The latest are Jurong Port in Singapore, which has announced a US$ 22 million investment in solar panels, and Portsmouth, UK, which is installing 4,500 solar panels.

Industry watchers say that, with solar technology becoming more efficient and cheaper, now is the right time to start investing in solar power. Ports with more sunshine are almost guaranteed a good rate of return on their investment.


Hyperloop – futuristic transportation

Imagine a missile-shaped capsule that contains cargo or even passengers, which is shot between locations through a pneumatic tube. That is the principal concept behind the Hyperloop, one of the most futuristic forms of cargo transportation ever dreamed up.

The capsule, or ship, would reach speeds of over 500 mph, faster than some airplanes. What would take a vessel three hours would take the Hyperloop just 10 minutes.

It is being developed by Hyperloop Technologies, of Los Angeles, USA, as the next step in worldwide transportation, from a concept designed by Canadian-American entrepreneur Elon Musk. While initially the system is intended for overland transport, it could also be used for undersea transport. A container could be shipped from China to the US West Coast in less than a day. The first overland tests are expected to be carried out in California next year.

The capsules in the land-based version would be propelled through low-pressurised tubes using air compressors powered by solar panels along the roof of the tube. The capsules would ‘float’ on a cushion of air created as it moves through the tube. The twin tubes would be mounted on columns above the ground.


Hybrid engines running on diesel and LNG

A new ship’s engine running on both diesel and LNG has been developed by a research facility in Denmark. The engine is designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide. According to the designers, the functioning of the engine is very similar to a normal engine, but operators will have to add gas when required.

With the gas under a pressure of about 300 bars, the biggest challenge was to build a safe and reliable engine. But over 100 of these engines have already been purchased as shipowners refit vessels. With a vessel operating for 25 to 30 years, the investment will soon pay off, especially with stricter regulation of sulphur emissions.

The next stage is for 100 per cent natural gas engines to be introduced, but researchers say the supply and bunkering systems need to be in place first. Currently, 99 per cent of the world’s fleet runs on diesel engines, so there is a lot of market potential for these new engines.


Smart reefer containers


The Dutch company UNIT45, which makes intermodal 45 ft containers, has partnered with Globe Tracker International, a leader in global supply chain visibility, to offer the first commercial Smart Refrigerated container. The revolutionary system will combine data from the refrigeration unit with data collected from both inside and outside the container. This will offer a true picture of the cargo in transit, reducing risk and the chance of loss in transit.