Use of HFO “Impractical” for Unmanned Ships


Bunker saving unmanned ships would need to use costlier distillate fuel due to the onboard handling complexities of heavy fuel oil, a UK-based academic has said.

Citing a recent study, Christian Matthews , head of maritime technology at Liverpool John Moores University, said that automating the process of heating heavy fuel oil prior to use would be impractical.

“The majority of ships operate on heavy fuel oil that is so thick and dirty that it must be heated and purified on board before use,” Matthews says.

And he added that “it would be impractical to automate this process” so that “unmanned ships would need to operate using a more refined fuel such as marine-grade diesel oil.”

Rolls-Royce estimates automated vessels would use around 15% less fuel than their manned equivalents, but with Ship & Bunker data indicating distillate fuel is currently priced around 70% more than HFO, it would suggest a net increase in the overall cost of transporting freight.

But even though the prospect of remotely operated and fully automated vessels is drawing closer – earlier this week Wärtsilä said it had tested a remote controlled vessel from a distance of 8,000 km (5,000 miles) away , while Nippon Yusen K.K.(NYK), Kongsberg Maritime AS (Kongsberg) and Yara are among those looking to test such vessels in 2019 – it would seem the earliest their inclusion in the commercial fleet would come is during the next decade.

With the global sulfur cap on marine fuel lowering to 0.50% in 2020, at which point the vast majority of vessel are expected shift away from using HFO to burning MGO, the fact that unmanned ships would need to use distillates may be a non issue.

However, it would presumably still be a factor for those considering the use of scrubbers in conjunction with HFO as an equivalent method of compliance with the new sulfur rules.

The interest in unmanned vessels does not just rest on economic factors though, as new research has pointed to safety advantages of fully automated shipping.

The introduction of unmanned ships “might result in a significant decrease in the number of grounding events”, according to researchers at Gdynia and Aalto universities who have studied a number of shipping accidents.

In June Rolls-Royce demonstrated what is said was the world’s first remotely operated commercial vessel in Copenhagen harbour, Denmark, while an unmanned shortsea cargo ship is set to operate off the Norwegian coastline in a few years’ time.

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Source: The Conversation


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