Over the years shipping has grown ever more environmentally unfriendly, emitting large quantities of toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx). Now partners from the EU-funded
CREATING (‘Concepts to reduce environmental impact and attain optimal transport performance by inland navigation’) project, together with oil multinational BP, have developed a new shipping
vessel, which they say is virtually emission-free.

In order to achieve this, the Victoria, a 1,300 tonne, 70 metre long motor vessel owned by BP Shipping and operating on a daily basis in the Port of Rotterdam and Antwerp areas in the
Netherlands and Belgium, had to undergo various modifications, mainly on the engine. These modifications are expected to cut down NOx emissions by 92% and particulate matter by 98%. In
addition, SOx emissions will be almost completely eliminated, while CO2 emissions are expected to be reduced by 5%.

The NOx emissions are tackled by injecting urea into the exhaust stream, an organic compound made up of ammonia and carbon dioxide. The ammonium reacts with the NOx emissions and effectively
removes most of them from the stream. This in turn stops the emissions entering into the atmosphere and contributing to the tropospheric greenhouse gas ozone.

Particulate matter or minute particles of soot are removed from the exhaust stream by a filter. ‘The exhaust gases come through the system, through the exhaust and go through the filter,’ Mike
Smyth, project manager for BP shipping on the Cleanest Ship Project, explains. ‘The filter traps the particles of soot, so that the gases that go up into the atmosphere don’t have the soot
particles in them. One of the issues whenever you’ve got a filter is the filter will always get blocked up or clogged. So, we’ve provided a regeneration system.’

This system consists of two burners placed in the exhaust line. ‘Whenever the system detects that it is getting blocked, the two burners start and heat the exhaust gases to nearly 500°,’ Mr
Smyth adds. ‘They literally just burn off the soot particles within the filter.’ This has to be done after every 20 to 50 running hours for ten minutes.

The other emission the team had to tackle was the SOx emissions. ‘We’ve changed the fuel the vessel uses,’ Mr Smyth explains. ‘Prior to the project, we were using fuel oil, which is more or
less standard across the inland waterway with a sulphur content of 1,000 part per million [ppm]. On this vessel, we’re using ultra-low sulphur fuel oil. It’s basically the same sort of oil
you’d put in a diesel car from a gas station ashore. Ultra-low sulphur fuel oil has a sulphur content of ten ppm.’

Finally, a device known as a Tempomaat is installed on the Victoria to reduce fuel consumption. ‘It’s basically a fuel-efficiency system,’ Mr Smyth comments. ‘The captain sets where the vessel
is, where he wants to go, what time he wants to get there and the system tells him the most economical speed to go at between A and B. By doing that, you reduce your fuel consumption – it’s a
bit like sitting on a motorway: If you put your foot down and go full throttle to get to where you’re going, you can see your tank empty very quickly. But if you’re sitting cruising, you use
less fuel. The other advantage is if you don’t use fuel, you don’t emit CO2 into the atmosphere, so any saving you’re making on fuel, you replicate in your saving from CO2.’

Currently, the system is still quite expensive, the partners say, although they refuse to put a price tag on it. However, ‘I’m sure it’s going to be like in computers: First, it’s going to be
these big expensive machines, but then they will be a lot smaller and less expensive,’ says Bert de Vries from the Netherlands’ Shipbuilding Industry Association, one of the project partners.
Mike Smyth agrees: ‘The big logistical problem we had was that as an operational vessel, the Victoria was designed with the equipment already fitted in. The pieces of equipment we proposed to
fit were quite big and chunky. There’s a lot of equipment back there and actually fitting the new technologies into an existing ship was quite a challenge. If you were doing a newly built ship
and you were putting in the same technology, it’d be a lot less expensive and lot easier to do.’

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