Belgian engine manufacturer ABC is supplying the power for a new ‘green’ oceanographic research vessel, while it continues development of a hydrogen engine
When it docks in Ghent in September, the newly completed oceanographic research vessel Belgica will carry with it no small measure of sustainability, modern green ship technology and Belgian pride.
“At the moment, the finishing touches are being put to the vessel in Vigo, Spain, where it is also undergoing extensive testing,” said Belgium State Secretary for Science Policy Thomas Dermine in January. “In September 2021, Belgium’s pride in marine research and technology will be christened in Ghent. With Belgica, we are helping our country to become one of the world leaders in marine and underwater exploration. I am very happy with Ghent’s enthusiasm to become the godfather city of this exceptional ship,” added Secretary Dermine.
Spanish shipbuilder Freire reported on social media on 2 March that sea trials for the new oceanographic research vessel had been completed.
Built to replace its aging predecessor with the same name, Belgica is outfitted with a full acoustic underwater instrumentation suite, 400 m3 of lab space and heavy-duty deck machinery to deploy a wide range of scientific gear in up to 5,000 m of water.
An added source of Belgian pride beats below deck in the heart of the ship’s engineroom. There, three engines built by Ghent-based engine company Anglo Belgian Company (ABC) make up the ship’s diesel-electric propulsion plant. Belgica has one six cylinder, inline 6DZC diesel engine, rated at 1,405 kW at 1,000 rpm and two eight-cylinder, inline 8DZC units, rated at a total of 3,750 kW at 1,000 rpm.
Complying with IMO Tier III, the diesel generator sets are fitted with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to reduce NOx emissions. The four-stroke, medium-speed engines are fully acoustically dampened and have double elasticity to eliminate vibrations and hull-borne noise, supporting the ship’s role as a ‘silent’ oceanographic research vessel – recognised by the notation ‘Silent-R’ awarded to the ship by class society DNV.
Building engines since 1912, ABC manufactures medium-speed engines in 6- and 8-cylinder inline configurations and 12- and 16- cylinder V-engines, covering a power range from 600 kW up to 10.4 MW. Notably, ABC supplied the prime movers for the smaller, previous generation research vessel RV Belgica. Built in 1984 by Boelwerf in Temse, Belgium, the 51-m RV Belgica (A962) is powered by a 1,170-kW medium-speed, four-stroke ABC 6M DZC1000-150 diesel engine, driving a kort-nozzle ducted propeller. Over its 37 years of service, RV Belgica notched up more than 1,000 scientific missions.
Following the launch of a public tender, Freire Shipyard was selected in 2018, with the Spanish shipbuilder awarding a contract to Rolls-Royce to deliver ship design and equipment systems for the replacement of the aging RV Belgica.
Based on a UT 844 WP design, the new Belgica has a Rolls-Royce main propulsion system, including side thrusters, Promas integrated propulsion and manoeuvring system, power electric system and steering gear. Additionally, Rolls-Royce ship’s automation and control systems, such as the propulsion control system, Unified Bridge and dynamic positioning (DP), have been supplied.
Operating in the Eurofleets network, the 71-m Belgica will play a key role in Belgian and European marine research in the coming decades when it begins operations in Q3 2021. As a multidisciplinary research vessel, Belgica will support scientific research in the fields of fisheries, biology, geology, climate and chemistry.
“Three engines built by Ghent-based Anglo Belgian Company make up the ship’s diesel-electric propulsion plant”
Owned by Belgium’s Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO), Belgica will be managed by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) in co-operation with the Ministry of Defence and a private operator.
Another naval sector success for ABC was the award in November to supply two 6DZC and one 12VDZC generator sets for a series of 12 mine counter measure (MCM) vessels that will be built for the Belgian and Dutch navies. The new MCM vessels will be built by French shipbuilder Kership, a joint venture between Naval Group and Piriou.
Groundbreaking hydrogen engine
Fuel flexibility and sustainability remains a core value of engine development at ABC. One project being watched closely by industry is the development of the hydrogen-powered, dual-fuel engine by BeHydro, an all-Belgian joint venture (JV) between ABC and Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB).
Over the past three years, BeHydro has developed, produced and tested a prototype hydrogen-diesel engine with a capacity of 1 MW. The four-stroke, medium-speed, hydrogen-fuelled engine was launched with much fanfare in September and the JV expects to scale up the technology to produce engines of up to 10 MW.
BeHydro estimates it will have the capacity to produce 100 engines annually, with plans to release a zero-emission engine with spark ignition that will burn only hydrogen by Q2 2021.
“There is no NOx, no hydrocarbons, no particulates and no CO2 emissions,” said ABC chief executive Tim Berckmoes, describing the hydrogen-powered engine as “heaven on earth”. The hydrogen fuel engine will be available in the power range of 1 MW to 2.7 MW.
Mr Berckmoes said the engine is based on proven-diesel engine technology, so [it is] very safe, easy to operate, and the investment cost is quite low.
The first two BeHydro marine engines, 2 MW primer movers, will be installed in a hydrogen-powered tug, Hydrotug, for the Port of Antwerp.
Advancing the project, Lloyd’s Register awarded an approval in principle (AiP) to BeHydro for the development of a hydrogen-powered dual-fuel engine with a capacity to 2.6 MW, the first units of which will be installed in the tug. Projections are that the hydrogen dual-fuel engine will offer the opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions by up to 85% and provide fuel flexibility when hydrogen is not available. Availability of the medium-speed engine technology is essential for hydrogen to advance as a clean alternative fuel.
Sustainability is important to North Sea Port chief executive Daan Schalck. North Sea Port promotes the use of inland waterway shipping and trains to reduce road congestion and emissions.
Commenting on the launch of the BeHydro engine in a video message, Mr Schalck said it is important for sustainable forms of transport on the rivers and rails to “take the first step towards energy-efficient engines.” Mr Schalck added: “We believe both ships and trains will be the first ones to use hydrogen.”
Following its construction of Hydroville – the first hydrogen-powered passenger boat – ABC JV partner CMB is advancing the use of hydrogen on several fronts beside the Hydrotug project. Among these are Hydrocat, a hydrogen-powered crew transfer vessel for the offshore windfarm market being developed by CMB.Tech and Windcat Workboats, and the 80-passenger HydroBingo, the world’s first hydrogen-powered ferry, being built in Japan.