LNG-powered inland tanker delivers innovation and savings

13 Feb 2017

Outwardly 'Ecoliner' could be taken for just another inland tanker, in reality it is far from such (Damen)

Outwardly 'Ecoliner' could be taken for just another inland tanker, in reality it is far from such (Damen)

Europe’s inland shipping industry has the prospect of reaping significant fuel-savings with the introduction of Damen’s solely LNG-powered ‘Ecoliner’.

The Ecoliner project, co-financed by the EU, has produced an inland tanker powered solely by LNG, a feature on its own offering significant reductions in running costs. Potential efficiencies go further however with inclusion of additional innovations including first installation of the ACES Air-Lubricated Hull, a gas-electric shaft propulsion system and one of the first Van der Velden FLEX Tunnel installations.

It is important to mention that other LNG-powered inland vessel have been developed including the retrofitted container vessel Eiger and the type-G tanker Sirocco. These run on dual-fuel engines, Ecoliner is the first such to be powered solely by LNG.

Before looking in detail at the Ecoliner it is worth taking a brief look at the European inland shipping scene. As with most sectors, there is need not only to keep up with demands for greater efficiencies but also to reduce the environmental impact of operating alongside increasingly urbanised riverside communities. Involvement of the EU in encouraging and supporting innovative and green infrastructures including inland waterway navigation has been an important element getting this project from concept to an actual vessel.

The EU supported LNG Masterplan for Rhine-Main-Danube project was initiated by Pro Danube Management GmbH and Port of Rotterdam Authority to develop a favourable regulatory framework and ensure investment in terminal infrastructure and LNG-fuelled or LNG-carrying vessels. It is financed through the TEN-T programme, benefiting from over €40m of EU support and implemented by a consortium of 33 companies and organisations from public and private sectors across 12 European member states.

Relevant when considering the Ecoliner project, the LNG Masterplan has seen pilot deployments carried out in both the Rhine and Danube regions by barge operators and logistics providers along with shipyards and their suppliers. The deployments cover parts of an entire LNG supply chain with investments in vessels powered by, or transporting LNG. The chain includes the LNG terminal in Port of Ruse (Bulgaria) with a truck-fuelling station and inland vessel fuelling pontoon. At the seaward end of the route, the port related project partners include Antwerp Port Authority and Port of Rotterdam Authority.

The involvement of Rotterdam is reflective of how Gate LNG Terminal is now established not only for imports but also as an export terminal with the recently completed breakbulk LNG export development operated by Vopak and Gasunie at Yukon Harbour on the north side of the Yangtze Canal. Gradually, the barriers to expanding alternative fuel options for river and sea transport are being removed in an age when efficiencies and emissions reduction are high priority items.

Damen chose the route of multiple innovations to exploit maximum efficiency gains in an effort to make the concept attractive to potential customers. Comprehensive tank testing of the design was carried out at research institute MARIN where the Ecoliner’s efficiency was confirmed, an important factor at the design stage as explained by Simon Provoost, product director inland waterways transport at Damen Shipyards: ‘Testing how the design combined multiple innovations was very important so that Damen could offer the 3,040m3 capacity EcoLiner to the market with utmost confidence.’ Adding: ‘After successful testing at MARIN, we can now complete the hull in the Netherlands and we’re talking with a number of interested parties. Fuel accounts for a very large proportion of inland shipping costs, so if operators can save 20% or more, that generates a lot of interest.’

Mr Provoost also highlights how consideration of the environmental influence of maritime transport in general is a factor set to develop further in time: “Every part of the EcoLiner has been designed to reduce fuel consumption … that, combined with low-emission LNG instead of marine diesel, makes the EcoLiner easily the greenest inland shipping vessel in Europe. It’s increasingly important for owners and clients to demonstrate sustainable operations and prepare for future ‘green corridors’ subject to inland emissions regulations.”

Construction was entrusted to Damen’s Hardinxveld facility with the hull built at the group’s Galati shipyard in Romania. Final completion was carried out in the Netherlands in 2016 involving installation and outfitting of all main systems including: all generator-gas engines, power management, propulsion and steering gear. The finished product was exhibited at the Damen Workboat Festival 2016 at Gorinchem in October (see MJ December 2016) and latest information from Damen states the vessel is currently for sale and awaiting a customer.

Ecoliner is of modular design and while delivered as an inland tanker can be built to transport any commodity, including containers and dry bulk. The Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (AND-UNECE) has approved the gas-powered design allowing it to be used on all international inland waterways.

Before looking at the specification in detail and as significant as the LNG aspect of the vessel is, it is worth examining further two of the other innovative features of the vessel, the ACES (Air Chamber Energy Saving) Air-Lubricated Hull and the electric shaft propulsion in combination with Van der Velden FLEX Tunnel.

The ACES system was developed some years ago by Damen Shipyard Bodewes along with Marinvention and MARIN as partners. The principle involves reducing the frictional resistance of the hull as it moves through the water by introducing air between the underside of the hull and the water. This is achieved by blowing air into chambers (corrugated profiles welded to the bottom plates) beneath the ship. The air is held within these chambers with just a small amount required to ‘top-up’ any losses which may occur while the vessel is underway. The system allows a small amount of air onto the propeller, something that reduces propeller vibrations and Damen state that in tank testing and full-scale trials, the ACES concept has delivered ‘dramatic’ fuel savings of up to 15%.

LNG-powered electric propulsion is not new in the inland shipping world but Damen state the Ecoliner is the first to combined LNG-fuelled machinery with electric shaft-driven propulsion and steering gear instead of electric driven rudder-propellers. It is also the first Damen-built vessel with the Van der Velden FLEX Tunnel system. The first vessel to have the system installed was the barge combination Rhenus Duisburg for Rhenus PartnerShip. The push-barge combination typically transports coal from Rotterdam to Lünen in Germany in a passage profile involving both loaded and ballast segments in deep and shallow water, a profile suited to the FLEX Tunnel principle as outlined below.

Inland shipping usually adopts shaft tunnels to ensure optimal water flow to larger, more efficient propellers at shallow draughts. The downside of conventional tunnels is an increase in hull resistance. However, around 85% of the passage time is in a loaded condition in deeper water. The FLEX Tunnel involves moveable flaps ahead of the propellers/nozzles which when lowered in effect form the tunnels, when the vessel is loaded the tunnels retract to avoid added resistance. When sailing at shallow draughts the tunnel deploys to ensure sufficient water flow to the propellers maintaining efficiency.

Turning to the vessel itself Ecoliner (yard number 571722) is a chemical tanker Type C and classed by BV with the notation: I5Z IN(0.6) Tanker/Double Hull, DP = 57.5kPa, TP = 65kPa, + Hull MACH.

Main dimensions include: LOA 110m, breadth moulded 11.45m, depth 5m, construction draught maximum 3.65m, deadweight at 3.3m 2,600 tons and air draught 4.5m. Tank capacities are: gas storage 55m3, fresh water 14m3, lube oil 2m3, dirty oil (aft) 2m3, ballast tanks (aft) 100m3, ballast tanks (midships) 1,240m3, ballast tanks (foreship) 120m3, cargo tank capacity (approx) 3,000m3. The cryogenic fuel storage details include two ca. 26m3 Cryovat/MSN tanks. Note the absence of fuel oil storage in the tank capacity specifications.

Looking in detail at the cargo zone, the vessel is configured as a chemical tanker with eight 373m3 tanks along with a 13m3 slop tank. Loading pressure is 50kPa with a maximum loading density of 1kg/dm3. Unsurprisingly, there is a significant Dutch influence with the component suppliers. Puttershoek the Netherlands-based Kampers Pumps & Service supplied the cargo pumps comprising two 2C182/74 HXE 450m3/hr models. The Dutch connection continues with cargo piping and cargo monitoring systems, the former comprising a galvanised double-part system supplied by Zevenbergen-based RuGoTech Pijpleidingen BV and the latter a Vegaflex monitoring system from Papendrecht-based Berg Maritieme Meetsystems.

Turning to the machinery, power is provided by four Scania SGI-16M gas engines along with four Visedo Marine PDR-M-1800-T1400 permanent magnet generators (285kW each) and four Axco PMM500M-500-340-L-500 permanent magnet electrical units.

As mentioned above Ecoliner is configured in a twin-screw arrangement and Werkendam the Netherlands-based De Waal BV supply the propeller tubing and shafts. Promarin and Van der Giessen products are regularly found in Damen vessels, the former providing two 1,500mm propellers and Van der Giessen supplying two Optima 1500 nozzles. The steering installation is an impressive arrangement supplied by Van der Velden Marine Systems BV (based at Krimpen aan de Lek, remember they also supplied the FLEX Tunnel) in the form of four VDVMS Hydro-dynamic Dolphin XR rudders. Finally, manoeuvrability is assisted with the inclusion of a Veth 1,200mm steering grid forward.

The electrical installation is provided by another Werkendam-based company, Werkina BV. The AC current arrangement is a 230/400V, 50/60Hz system with a 24/750V system for DC current. A Werkina Electric Power Conversion system is also included.

The complete LNG installation, including tanks with a bunker capacity of approximately 55m3 is located aft of the accommodation allowing the configuration forward of the cofferdam to be tailored to customer-specific requirements.

Before we look into the accommodation and wheelhouse areas and while at the aft end of the vessel, the accompanying photos illustrate where, as mentioned the LNG tanks are positioned above deck abaft the wheelhouse. The main accommodation is aft and built to the typical high standard found nowadays with both this type of vessel and of course Damen products. An aft entrance hall leads to the living area which includes five crew cabins; the option of providing accommodation forward, a typical feature in European inland vessels, is included although when the vessel was viewed at the Damen Workboat Festival late in 2016 this option had not been included.

Particularly impressive is the wheelhouse which again in line with inland vessel custom is telescopic allowing flexibility when navigating beneath low bridges. The wheelhouse is trapezium-shaped, dominated by a single horseshoe-shaped console with a raised seat for the master/driver and all main controls and monitors readily to hand. Either side of this central position are two smaller work areas; to port is an ‘office’ area while to starboard is a similar area with machinery monitoring facilities. Seating is provided within the wheelhouse for the whole crew compliment and at the after end is a small domestic facility area with the obligatory coffee-making provision, two in fact.

The communication and navigation equipment fit, while understandably not as comprehensive as may be found on a sea-going vessel of the same size is typical and adequate for an inland vessel. Furuno supply a RHRS 8ft river radar and VHF communication is via two Mariphone/Sailor RT6248 sets. Radio Zeeland Sigma has supplied the combi pilot, intercom and echo sounder with a NT-01 tachograph supplied by Nufatron. Berg Maritieme supplied the ship loading metering system, the chart plotter is stated as a PC Navigis system and finally Nieuwendijk-based Oceansat supplied the AIS.

By Peter Barker

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