How the electric racing championship is retrofitting former RMS St Helena to make it as ‘green and clean’ as possible
Electric racing championship Extreme E has acquired former Royal Mail cargo-passenger vessel RMS St Helena to minimise its environmental footprint as it transports drivers and the series’ equipment to its remote locations.
Extreme E was launched to bring electric racing to some of the most remote corners of the planet to highlight climate change challenges faced by different ecosystems, while at the same time showcasing the performance of all-electric SUVs in extreme conditions.
Its acquisition of RMS St Helena, which for years served the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, fits strongly into Extreme E’s ethos and strategy. The ship is currently undergoing a refit and modernisation at UK’s Cammell Laird shipyard to lower its emissions, before being used to transport the championship’s freight and infrastructure, including vehicles, worldwide.
Wilson Ship Management is working with Cammell Laird to convert the ship. Once the ship is delivered, the ship management company will recruit and manage crew, manage certification processes, maintain class and help with port clearances.
Initially, Extreme E planned to charter a ship – but having examined the market, soon realised there was nothing suitable. Options included passenger ships with no cargo capacity, or cargo ships with no passenger capacity, or ferries with both cargo and passenger capacity but no loading and unloading facilities other than roll on-roll off.
Wilson Ship Management managing director Allan Wilson says “At the end it was thought RMS St Helena has a platform from which Extreme E can operate extremely well. Extreme E can get to places and unload with its own cranes. It is an unusual vessel in that we don’t really make ships anymore that have a mix of cargo and passenger capacity, and it has been doing this job for a long time, carrying everything the island of Saint Helena needed. The advantage is it was built as a government tender so has a high specification and is a very solidly-built vessel.”
Extreme E carried out a study into buying RMS St Helena and realised that not only would the vessel be able to get to the remote and inaccessible places it needed to, but the cost of air transport and its associated environmental footprint was huge. Even before RMS St Helena was retrofitted, the ship’s footprint was far lower in terms of emissions than air travel.
Green and clean
Extreme E wanted to make RMS St Helena as “green and clean” as possible. The vessel is being retrofitted in two stages. It is currently in stage one of its retrofit, where all essential work and obvious retrofitting to make it more environmentally friendly and reduce emissions, is being carried out. Stage two will see the vessel retrofitted with extra solutions to make it even more emissions efficient.
Perhaps the most major retrofit has involved the 30-year-old vessel’s engines. Wilson Ship Management teamed up with Lincoln Diesels, servicing agent for the Mirrlees Blackstone main engines, to completely rebuild them. Mr Wilson says “This is one of the main things we have done to reduce the ecological footprint – the ship used to run on heavy fuel and will now run on low sulphur marine diesel. We completely rebuilt the engines and re-machined all the cylinder blocks, and so the engines and generators are as renewed as they can be and good for another 10-12,000 hours before they need to be serviced.”
The shafts and rudders were also completely retrofitted. “We took the shafts out and gave them a complete overhaul, and polished and reconditioned the props and rudder,” says Mr Wilson.
The vessel has always used controllable pitch propellers, which Mr Wilson singled out was good for economy. “We can lock one shaft and run one engine, with minimum fuel consumption, when needed.”
He sums up “We have effectively carried out a reconditioning of the ship, it is as near to new as it can be and completely refitted.”
The Hanworthy Trident sewage treatment plant was overhauled to meet new class requirements and a Bio Sea ballast water treatment system is being installed.
The vessel uses Siemens monitoring systems for onboard power management, and Extreme E is looking at how to regulate these to smooth consumption for energy levels.
A major issue for Extreme E and Wilson Ship Management was to get the ship back to Lloyd’s Register class. The ship was originally Lloyd’s Register class, but at the end of RMS St Helena’s life, the ship was sold to another company to be used to house troops at the Suez Canal for six months, and this company did not keep it in class.
As soon as Extreme E bought RMS St Helena, the championship went straight to Lloyd’s Register to reapply. “We worked to do that straight away, like installing the ballast water treatment system and everything else to make sure it is class-approved,” says Mr Wilson.
Neptun Ozis Studio is helping to carry out the interior refurbishment. Its director Neptun Ozis says “The interior was pretty tired as it was 30 years old, so we needed to improve it. We decided to upscale it rather than rip it all out, including looking at re-wrapping pieces of furniture to improve the cosmetic effect and use more efficient lighting, but without ripping out everything that was there, so that we can be more eco-friendly.”
Extreme E is also talking to major sanitaryware manufacturers about mixing air and water in taps to use less water. Mr Wilson says, “It would drop water consumption, so we use less heat and make less water.”
In terms of carrying the electric SUVs and freight, the vessel is well set up for transporting, loading and unloading the equipment, with two big opening hatches and a hydraulic floor. Extreme E is aiming to load as much of the cargo and cars into containers as possible (the ship can carry 60-70 TEU containers) to make it easier to load and unload.
After carrying out stage one of the retrofits, Extreme E would like to move to stage two, where it can concentrate on additional solutions to make the ship even more eco-friendly.
Mr Wilson says “The plan was to carry out the low-hanging fruit in stage one, to get everything done that we could and get the ship ready to go, and then look to partners to make further improvements. So now we are talking to big, well known operators and suppliers for stage two, who say they would like to be part of the process.”
Extreme E is still in talks, but potential solutions being considered are installing a micro bubble release system under the hull, whereby the bubbles break the friction between the hull and water and so reduce propulsion energy used. The company is looking for a partner to supply the technology needed.
Mr Wilson adds “We might look for someone to redesign the propellers to make some efficiencies.”
The newly refitted ship fits in well with Extreme E’s strategy and what it is aiming to achieve. Mr Wilson says “Extreme E is going to extreme and remote places trying to draw attention to ecological issues and the fact the ship can go to these areas means we can film the damage there. The aim is to highlight issues and create legacy projects to help clear up these issues.”
By being able to access remote geographical areas with low emissions, the former RMS St Helena ship fits in seamlessly with the championship’s strategy.
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