Maritime traffic is on the rise. But there is still room for improvement for what is already the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly form of worldwide transport. At the Elefsis shipyard in Greece shipping vessels have been built for the last two and a half thousand years.
Despite the accumulated knowledge and experience in building one of the most dependable and efficient means of transport, there are new design and engineering challenges to be mastered. In response to these challenges two European projects have been put into action.
The HERCULES project is aimed at improving engines in terms of efficiency and emissions, to provide the same or a more amount of power while reducing emissions. Just about all ships are equipped with diesel engines that use cheap fuels that emit carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulphur. However the refining facilities required for the use of a cleaner fuel do not exist. Therefore the most practical method to reduce emissions is to reduce the amount of fuel being burnt. The goals for next phase of the project are set at the reduction of fuel consumption by 3% and a 30% reduction of nitrogen oxide emission by 2011.
HERCULES has a budget of €33 million, half of which is a grant from the European Commission. The project brings together 10 countries and over 40 organisations. Numerous shipping companies have also jumped on board, not only for environmental reasons but to save costs in the long-term. The project has even brought together the two world leaders in the shipping market, MAN Diesel and Wärtsilä, who together hold 85-90% of the world market. The old rivals have teamed up in an effort to subdue the growing Asian market.
The EU has also invested in the SAFEICE project to improve the safety of traffic in the ice-covered Arctic waters. The use of Arctic waters for transportation is set to rise. Global warming is opening new paths through ice-covered waters and they are bound to be used for the shipping of newly-discovered oil and gas in northern Russia. All ships entering the icy ports of Finland or Sweden require the escort of an ‘ice-breaker’, a ship specially designed to forge paths in ice-covered waters. But since there are already not sufficient ice-breakers in service, many ships have a risky business in the Arctic. SAFEICE is taking a new look at the design requirements for ships that travel in the Arctic region. Other concerns include traffic control and the charting and forecasting of the waters.
As oil costs rise the need for cheaper and greener transportation grows ever more important. Research projects like HERCULES and SAFEICE will help the maritime industries to achieve the required standards that could keep Europe at the top of the shipping market.