Norwegian coatings supplier Jotun is offering a new hull cleaning system designed for challenging vessel operations that, it says, if widely adopted, could help to reduce shipping’s carbon emissions
Jotun developed its Hull Skating Solutions (HSS) system in partnership with Kongsberg, Semcon, DNV GL, Telenor, Wallenius Wilhelmsen, Berge Bulk and Maersk and has been testing it on vessels and at selected ports.
The system consists of a remotely operated, machine-learning enabled robot called HullSkater that cleans vessels’ hulls, but Jotun business development director Geir Axel Oftedahl said the robotic cleaner was just one part of a larger system.
“It is a bigger solution, and it consists of the HullSkater, a high-performance coating SeaQuantum Skate, real-time fouling alerts, remote operation with trained skate operators and finally, a set of performance and service-level guarantees. All of this integrated into one, full solution. The integration here is important. Since we control all the parts, we have been able to make sure that all the parts work together in harmony."
Mr Oftedahl said the move from Jotun’s traditional market segment into robotics was a major leap that required a good deal of assistance.
"The introduction of our hull performance solution back in 2011 had really opened our minds to innovative solutions outside the paint can. We did not know anything about robotics, however, so when we came to realise that robotics had the potential to really revolutionise the market for hull performance, we did the sensible thing. We approached a global leader in subsea robotics in Kongsberg and asked their advice. We basically asked if we were crazy to head in this direction. Fortunately, the response was we would only be crazy if we moved forward without bringing Kongsberg on board as a partner," he said.
Kongsberg was only too happy to join as Kongsberg chief executive Geir Håøy noted, but shipowner Wallenius Wilhelmsen senior vice president Geir Fagerheim’s reaction was “a mixed bag”, he said. The shipowner quickly came around to the appeal of the project’s broader implications and used one of their vessels as a testing ground, he said.
“[I was]… surprised that a company mainly known for selling paint was coming to me with this advanced technical solution… I must admit there was a bit of scepticism… Could they really make this work, across the globe in the harshest environments and remotely operated? Because that is a huge challenge. We have had this in operation on our vessel Talisman for two years, working across the globe, and it has been a really interesting challenge and a good journey,” Mr Fagerheim said.
“From our side, we can see this as a potential game-changer in the way we manage biofouling… it is a self-sufficient solution, so there is no need for interference or action from the office to make this happen. It is a semi-autonomous solution to keep the hulls clean at all times and thereby also avoid the overconsumption [of fuel] from biofouling, which could be huge, while also helping us keep the emissions down. We see that it lays the groundwork for even more advanced paintings going forward that could be biocide-free but also lowering the baseline consumption for the vessels even further.”
“Wallenius Wilhelmsen has a zero-emissions ambition in its strategy, and this technology could be a solution that could bring us toward that goal,” he said.
Kongsberg executive vice president of sensors and robotics Arne Rinnan likened HullSkater’s undersea operational environment to deep space due to its hostility and said Kongsberg saw technological and business development opportunities ahead as he described Kongsberg’s contribution to the system.
“One element is autonomy… we have a series of sensors which are crucial to get this operating reliably. We have battery technology and we also have connectivity solutions which we are applying in the HullSkater. It is a great challenge to navigate [the robot] on these huge hulls without getting lost, and we are doing that by combining the sensors with machine learning,” he said.
“It is important to make complexity simple. And that is another way of looking at the integration. This really needs to be reliable and simple in day-to-day operation.”
Classification society DNV GL, another partner, said the technology alone was tempting enough to draw them into the project but, as DNV GL senior vice president Per Marius Berrefjord said, larger concerns factored heavily in the decision to join.
“The project is so full of innovation and interesting technology, we would have joined just because of that. If you look at the bigger picture, shipping needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and it needs to do it very fast – maybe two to three times faster than normal. And we are very serious in DNV GL about supporting any mission or action that can contribute to that,” he said.
“To make all of what should happen, happen, we need to concentrate on commercial operations, logistics, technical management of the ships, technology to save fuel and… the introduction of new fuel types. And the problem is, it is going too fast. If you put the HullSkater into this picture, you see that it is combining procedures and new technology, it is reasonably costed, saving fuel and it is available now, both for existing ships and newbuilds. So, it can come in fast. So we think it is a perfect example of what we would like to see in the industry.”
In a pre-recorded kick-off ceremony shared digitally due to coronavirus concerns, Jotun chief executive Morton Fon expanded on the partnerships that underpin the project.
"For the last four years, we have quietly innovated. We have been partnering with some of the most substantial players in the shipping industry to come up with what we see as a ground-breaking solution for vessels across the globe," he said.
"We knew from the beginning that, if we were going to succeed with this, we had to make sure that sustainability and financial performance went hand-in-hand, and this is exactly what we have developed.”
According to Jotun, HSS provides condition monitoring services tailored for each vessel. The solution uses a proprietary algorithm and big data to accurately predict fouling development and cleaning schedules.
Jotun said HSS will help ship operators combat early stages of fouling and significantly reduce fuel costs, CO₂ emissions and the spread of invasive species.
HullSkater removes individual bacteria and biofilm before macro-fouling takes hold. Jotun said this minimises the need for reactive cleaning which the company said can help cut costs and lower environmental risks.
HullSkater stays on the hull by the force of magnetic wheels. Each wheel is equipped with electric motors for propulsion and steering. The vehicle is equipped with cameras and sensors, supporting the operator with data for navigation and documenting fouling on the ship hull while a motorised brush keeps the hull free from fouling.
Jotun said the inspection and cleaning of the hull will average between two and eight hours depending on its size and condition.
Jotun is now in the final verification stage and recruiting select owners to be the first to use the solution.
In terms of its impact on CO2 emissions, Mr Fon said, “We have done some calculations on that, and of course we believe this can be a substantial contribution to eliminating CO2 emissions. If we were to put this on all ships in challenging trades around the world, we believe we could save the world 40M tonnes of CO2 emissions. How much is that? That equals the normal CO2 emissions in one year from Norway. So that is a huge impact."