A sea of possibilities

A sea of possibilities

South Africa’s maritime industry is booming, mirroring the global trend. It is easy to understand why when you look at the developments taking place …

It is the era of the environmentally friendly vessel, and Cape Town-based Veecraft Marine, a member of the Nautic Group, is leading the way with the development of hybrid-propulsion technology for the local market.

Veecraft Marine is set to become the first vessel-construction and maritime-engineering solutions company to introduce hybrid-propulsion technology in South African-built commercial crafts.

Although hybrid-propulsion technology has been around for some time, recent advances in engine and gearbox construction have made it possible to introduce this technology on a commercial basis in smaller maritime crafts.

“Hybrid-propulsion technology in the maritime industry can be compared to that used in the automotive industry,” says Veecraft Marine’s Andre van Niekerk. “Similar to those found in the auto industry, today’s electric motors and batteries for the maritime industry are small, highly efficient and capable of generating the power required by small commercial passenger vessels – such as ferries and tourism boats.”

The company expects this technology to become increasingly popular in the years to come, due to the significant emission and fuel-reduction benefits associated with hybrid-propulsion systems.

“Hybrid propulsion is also suitable for patrol vessels used by the oil and gas industry. These vessels are required to be fuel efficient when maintaining low and sustained speeds for patrol operations, but equally capable of reaching high speeds when, for example, the vessel is needed to intercept an intruder,” Van Niekerk continues.

“The flexibility of hybrid propulsion makes it possible to achieve both speed and fuel efficiency because the technology allows the vessel to go from electrical power to a combination of electrical and diesel power when additional speed or power is required.”

Van Niekerk expects hybrid propulsion to become increasingly popular among environmentally conscious vessel owners and operators determined to reduce fuel costs, and CO2 emissions, while maintaining speed and performance.

Things are also booming abroad, as Rachel Connor – marketing leader for the marine business of GE Power Conversion – states in the organisation’s thought leadership piece, entitled: Five things you may not know yet about the marine industry.

“The marine industry is rapidly evolving. While new technology means that vessels are more efficient, the need to keep up with the demands of globalisation has also meant that we’re seeing faster and larger ships at sea.”

Connor continues: “GE technology has been at the forefront of some of these developments. The recent launch of GE Marine, which combines expertise from several areas into a single business, will also help to ensure that GE is fully dedicated to making the naval, marine and offshore industries more efficient, safer and cleaner.”

She highlights five facts about the marine industry that have been shaped by these recent trends:

1. The world’s fastest ship is powered by jet engines

Francisco, the world’s fastest ship, uses a modified jet engine that was originally developed for the first C-5 transport aircraft, to enable the plane to carry heavy cargo across the Pacific Ocean. When it took off in 1968, the C-5 was the world’s largest aircraft, with the height of a six-story building and a length of over 73 m.

“Through research and development across GE, the TF39 engine (which was developed by the company for the airborne behemoth) has been adapted for marine use, with the modified LM2500 engines producing up to 34 MW of power each,” Connor explains.

Using these engines, the Francisco ferry is powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and can travel at speeds of up to 58,1 knots (nearly 110 km/h) carrying up to 1 000 passengers and 150 cars.

2. The largest ship in the world will not actually sail … for 25 years

Once complete, the Shell Prelude will be a staggering 488-m long and will displace 600 000 t of water, or as much as six aircraft carriers. “This ship will be fixed in place above the Prelude gas field off the cost of Australia for a projected 25 years, as the world’s largest floating LNG plant,” Connor points out.

“GE solutions will drive the large refrigerating compressors and will produce all the electric power required on board by steam turbines.”

3. Over 90 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea

Connor adds that, while the shipping industry emits far less carbon dioxide per tonne for each kilometre travelled, compared to trucking, global trade continues to increase. “Enhancing the efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint of these ships will be essential.”

4. The world’s leading shipbuilders are concentrated in Asia

From container ships and LNG carriers through to drill ships, floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) units and offshore supply vessels, demand for larger, more complex ships is driving strong competition in the industry.

“The race for new developments and efficiency is led by the world’s largest shipbuilding countries, China and Korea, with Japan continuing to build its position in LNG,” Connor explains.

“Our teams and specialist facilities put GE’s expertise close to customers. South Korea has some of the world’s biggest shipyards; including several specialising in using GE technology to produce all-electric vessels, such as Hyundai Heavy Industries. GE also equipped the first six electrically propelled LNG carriers for China.”

5. The USS Zumwalt can produce enough power for 78 000 homes

“To put it into context, early naval destroyers were able to produce between three and four kilowatts of electricity,” Connor points out.

“The Zumwalt is able to produce an incredible 78 000 kW – enough to meet the power needs of 78 000 homes. Its all-electric system provides power that is able to propel the ship, power the radars and computer systems and provide a surplus to drive all the weapons systems.”

With so many new developments and promising prospects, it will be very interesting to see what the future has in store for this booming industry, both locally and abroad …

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