Building tomorrow’s world of public transportation
There are two examples of completely sustainable ferries, explains Damen’s Product Director Ferries, Henk Grunstra. One of them, he states, has been around for hundreds of years already. The reaction ferry sees a vessel attached to a wire spanning a waterway. In order to cross, the method simply harnesses the current and channels it, via the run of the wire, in order to propel the ferry in the desired direction.
It’s simple, but effective and demonstrates clearly mankind’s historical habit of harnessing the forces of nature. It is, however, imperfect. For starters, the natural characteristics of a river dictate the location of the crossing point. Something which just isn’t practical in a modern world with a fast-flowing economy and dynamic movement of people.
So what’s the other option? “This involves a flywheel driven ferry,” says Henk.
At either end is a windmill, which is used to recharge the vessel ready for its return to the other side.
This one is of course also depending largely on nature: wind. Nowadays however, there are technical solutions available to store energy and use it when needed.
Unlike the first example, which is rooted in the past, this method belongs to the future. But this does not mean that the ferry world of today is devoid of innovative solutions towards sustainability. Far from it.
Covering the middle ground is Damen. Being involved in all sectors of the maritime industry, the company is investing considerably in the development of more sustainable public transport solutions. These efforts, Henk says, fall within three main areas; the much touted solution of LNG, diesel-hybrid and all electric.
Having a gas
We have seen a large increase in the amount of interest in LNG. The days of the ‘chicken and egg situation’ are largely behind us.
Until relatively recently, the big conundrum posed by LNG was the waiting game to see who moved first. Would vessel owners begin the switch to LNG-powered vessels before ports provided the relevant infrastructure for refuelling? Or would it fall to ports to put the system in place first, in the hope that vessels owners would quickly follow and deliver a return on investment? Many ports have stepped up to the plate on this one, and the LNG question is not the challenge it once was. Consequently, LNG propulsion in ferries shows promise, at least for some areas.
“We carried out a study with our clients, considering CAPEX and OPEX, to see what the best sustainable solution would be from an economic perspective,” continues Henk. “We reached the conclusion that it would be an LNG-driven RoPax ferry with engines driving the propellers directly. Many solutions are based on electric propulsion but this will be less energy efficient and lengthen the pay back time for LNG considerably. The findings were a mixed blessing. LNG is certainly ahead of all-electric propulsion when it comes to equipment availability, but that does not mean the required components are easy to come by. And, with many manufacturers concentrating their efforts on hybrid solutions, this may not change in the immediate future.
Diesel-hybrid, Henk states, is today an attractive solution. “There are numerous advantages. It’s a robust solution with a lot of proven technology already available.”
This biggest challenge, he explains, has been the power management system of the hybrid installation – “The most critical element.” Though there are still hurdles to overcome, Damen has found a way forward.
The company has a history of taking onboard the lessons learned in other industries. The famous Standardised Shipbuilding concept pioneered by Kommer Damen in the late 1960s, for example, borrows heavily from the successful production line processes of the automotive industry. The same can be said with Hardware in the Loop (HIL) technology – also applied in the aerospace world.
With HIL, component parts of a vessel can be pitched against realistic simulations of the stresses and strains they will encounter in the real world. The advantages of this are numerous, but amongst them is optimised build time, improved operational performance and, ultimately, significantly reduced costs of vessel ownership.
“With HIL we can check the performance before manufacturing. We have this capability in house and we work with suppliers and contractors on overcoming some complex challenges. HIL represents a big step forward towards a sustainable solution.”
A stepping stone to a new age
Full sustainability is offered by the all-electric solution. This, states Henk, is the future. And Damen is already there.
“We have developed an all-electric sightseeing boat for the picturesque canals of Amsterdam – though, naturally, the principle could be applied to other locations as well.”
In typical Damen fashion, Damen’s solution is standard, but flexible.
“We have developed a technical platform to be used for multiple solutions on the topside – open-top, classic and modern, giving clients flexibility to have their custom requirements on a standard, proven vessel. In fact, we encourage clients to come to us with their own designs. This way we know we are producing something aligned with market needs.”
The idea is to cater to the growing number of tourists that visit the city each year, at the same time improving on environmental performance via reduced sound and emissions.
“This is a stepping stone into a new age of emission free, silent, comfortable means of transportation. No rattling, no black smoke – it will be easier to listen to the commentary for one thing!”
Damen is also working on a full maintenance package for this type of vessel once it is operational.
“This is very much in keeping with the Damen philosophy. As a family company, Damen takes a long-term view in everything it does – including our relationships with our customers. With that in mind, we don’t like to just deliver a vessel, we aim to provide support for our clients into the future. Which is exactly why sustainability is of such great importance to us.”