December 20, 2017 by IDW

Today’s maritime industry is undergoing a technological transformation.  Nowhere is this more visible than in the way technology is being integrated into the design, manufacturing, and deployment of sea transport vessels.  From more efficient fuel and propulsion systems and emissions reduction measures to Internet of Things (IoT) integration and the generation of big data, the technological improvements being made to sea transport vessels are resulting in a more efficient, greener, and effective maritime shipping industry.

Fuel and Propulsion Systems

The technological improvements being applied to existing and future sea transport vessels are resulting in significant gains in fuel economy and reduced emissions.  One of the primary improvements to the fuel system being see is a move towards the use of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).  Compared to traditional fuels, LNG operates much cleaner, resulting in dramatically reduced emissions.  Engine systems that run off of LNG also run more efficiently, resulting in better fuel economy and reduced operational costs. The use of LNG in sea transport vessels is expected to increase over the coming years as LNG refinement, transportation, and bunkering facilities become more widespread.

In addition to the use of LNG, sea transport vessels are also incorporating additional technological improvements to propulsion systems.  Of particular note is the application of sail systems to provide extra propulsion and increase fuel efficiency.  Rotor sail systems, first designed in 1924, are beginning to be used on sea transport vessels.  Rotor sails use wind to generate thrust, reducing the workload on the engine.  While rotor sail systems and other alternatives on the market generally use some electricity, the amount of energy they generate results in a significant gain in fuel efficiency.  Rotor sails and other sail systems also allow sea transport vessels to reduce emissions and meet increasingly stringent regulatory requirements.

Emissions Reduction Measures

There is a large movement in the modern maritime transportation industry to move towards operations with a smaller environmental footprint.  Many of the design changes to the fuel and propulsion systems of sea transport vessels made in recent years have been implemented to reduce their emissions and increase efficiency.  The increasing use of LNG is one aspect of this, as is designing more efficient propulsion systems around LNG.  Modern sea transport vessels are also being equipped with state-of-the-art fuel emissions monitoring systems.  Powered by IoT technology, these systems are able to provide constant monitoring of important emissions thresholds.  The data generated by these systems has been used to generate insights into boosting efficiency and reducing emissions even further.

Alongside the use of data and monitoring systems, even legacy vessels that still run off of traditional heavy fuels are being equipped with emissions reduction measures.  Sulphur scrubbers are now being explored as a way to reduce the emission of Sulphur and other dangerous pollutants from the exhaust of container vessels.  Another measure used to reduce emissions is the addition of water into the fuel source immediately before it is combusted.  Water injection into the fuel reduces the temperature in the combustion chamber, which has been shown to result in a significant reduction of certain particles.

IoT and Big Data

One of the most exciting and transformative technological shifts occurring in the modern maritime transportation industry is the increasing use of IoT technology and the data it can generate.  IoT systems are now being used in sea transportation vessels to monitor critical equipment, enhance the safety and efficiency of transportation routes, communicate and warn other vessels, and boost efficiency.  IoT sensors attached to critical equipment have allowed sea vessel transport operators to improve maintenance cycles, resulting in increased equipment longevity.  The data generated by these sensors is also used to provide more accurate replacement schedules, avoiding costly downtime.  IoT systems are also being used as part of automated guidance systems, resulting in more efficient routes and safer operations.  One of the earliest applications of IoT technology was the use of sensor systems that could detect other nearby vessels and automatically warn them of the presence of another vehicle.  These systems have been demonstrated to increase safety and reduce collisions.

The data generated from IoT systems is being used to make targeted changes to operations and equipment in order to boost efficiency.  Access to big-data is allowing the maritime transportation industry to more efficiently deploy their resources, calculate shipping times, reduce operational downtime in their fleet, and integrate more closely with port equipment.  Over time, the use of big-data in the maritime industry will continue to drive a change towards more efficient, green, and profitable operations.  At the same time, the insights generated by IoT data will also make the industry much safer, resulting in fewer collisions and less accidents.

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