Autonomous vessels and electrification are among the trending technologies that will underpin offshore energy’s push for leaner, greener operations
Autonomous vessel technology will play an increasingly important role in reducing costs, increasing safety and lowering emissions in the exploration, production and maintenance of offshore oil and gas and renewable energy projects. A prime example is a subsea equipment inspection programme completed earlier this year using a new uncrewed surface vessel (USV). The project could provide a roadmap for fully remote IMR inspections in the future.
Using the innovative 12-m USV Fugro Maali, Woodside Energy and subsea vessel contractor Fugro collaborated on conducting an inspection in early May of pipelines near Dampier, off the north western coast of Western Australia. The campaign was the culmination of a three-year programme conducted by the Woodside and Fugro inspection, maintenance and repair (IMR) teams, according to Woodside’s Trunkline.
The programme required development of reliable and secure Remote Operations Architecture, construction of Fugro Maali by Sea-Kit International in Tollesbury, Essex, the UK and mobilisation of the vessel to the King Bay Supply Base (KBSB) on the Burrup Peninsula. Sea-Kit received the first-ever Unmanned Marine Systems (UMS) certificate from Lloyd’s Register for the vessel, one of two 12-m USVs ordered by Fugro in 2020.
Woodside sees the successful campaign as another step along the roadmap to fully remote IMR inspections by 2022. And it opens the door for an expansion of remote operations, including the go-ahead for a fleet of USVs and applying lessons learned to broader remote capabilities across operations.
“It’s a solution which generates significant savings but most importantly, it also reduces risk exposure by removing people from high-risk environments,” notes Woodside executive vice president operations Fiona Hick. “Plus, vessel emissions are significantly reduced compared with a traditional IMR vessel,” she adds.
On average, Woodside undertakes 60 days of such subsea inspection scopes off an offshore vessel, and these constitute a significant cost to the business. Currently, Woodside deploys Fugro Etive, a 93-m multi-purpose subsea support vessel with two Work-class remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), requiring 60 people offshore on average to operate.
“The future of remote inspections is Fugro Maali, which requires less than a third of the personnel – all located onshore in various remote operations centres,” says Woodside subsea and pipelines (SS&PL) production delivery manager Paul Ulyett. He adds this reduces risk by removing the exposure of personnel to offshore activities: “The effect is amplified, because of the associated reduction in fixed wing and helicopter flights to transport these personnel.”
“Vessel emissions are significantly reduced compared with a traditional IMR vessel”
Mr Ulyett says there is also potential to expand Fugro Maali’s capability to complete small intervention scopes, such as valve operations and cleaning. “Starting in the second half of this year, the USV will begin offshore inspection scopes,” he says. “The target is to transition about 80% of the annual IMR scope, including some light intervention work, to the uncrewed platform.”
Ms Hick says Fugro Maali is a prime example of how Woodside must manage its business to ensure it remains competitive into the future.
Increasing competitive financial and environmental pressures in offshore energy lay the groundwork for increasing the use of marine robots. Over the next two years, Ocean Infinity plans to deploy an ‘armada’ of uncrewed vessels for offshore inspection and subsea surveys that will be controlled from shore. This fleet of high-tech 21-m, 36-m and 78-m vessels will be equipped with gondola-mounted multi-beam echosounders, AUVs, work-class ROVs and tooling.
The tech behind autonomy
Among the suite of autonomous technologies supplied by Wärtsilä for the IntelliTug project – the first commercial Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS) trialled in the Port of Singapore – was the Wärtsilä RS24 high-speed, high-resolution FMCW K-Band radar (24GHz). Designed to provide high levels of situational awareness, especially in densely populated marine environments, the RS24 radar system was an integral part of the AI Captain — the brains of the little robotic research vessel Mayflower.
While the 15-m trimaran Mayflower’s first transatlantic was cut short by a mechanical fault, project managers ProMare say Mayflower sailed 450 nautical miles (of its planned 3,000-nautical mile trek) in three days using AI Captain navigation and IBM automation software. These assessed environment conditions and identified and avoided hazards, while maintaining situational awareness using the ship’s edge-computing capabilities.
The RS24 worked in tandem with the Mayflower’s onboard cameras, AIS, and navigational systems as a core part of the AI Captain. The AI Captain constantly evaluated Mayflower’s environment and long-term goals and modified the ship’s course to avoid obstacles that could threaten the vessel at sea.
Wärtsilä’s Guidance Marine says the RS24 has a five-times higher resolution than existing marine S- and X-Band radars. By identifying potential hazards, and through fusing data with that from the video recognition and AIS, the Wärtsilä system helps produce a high-fidelity map of the operating area.
Battery in a box
With oil companies and charterers looking to lower CO2 emissions from offshore operations, batteries are becoming a ‘must have’ for OSV owners to compete for long-term charters. In June, for example, Aker BP, in collaboration with Eidesvik, Solstad Offshore and Simon Møkster Shipping, announced plans to install batteries on three OSVs that are under long-term charters. Once the battery upgrade to one of those OSVs, Viking Prince, is completed in 2022, 11 of Eidesvik’s 12 vessels will have battery-hybrid technology.
Using batteries can reduce emissions from OSVs by 10-12% and will reduce CO2 emissions from these vessels by 2,500 tonnes annually, says Aker BP. All OSVs under long-term charter for Aker BP will be powered by batteries within a year, says the oil company.
Recognising this broader trend, propulsion and energy storage providers have developed containerised battery solutions to simplify the electrification of the fleet.
Early this year, Corvus Energy unveiled Corvus BOB, a new standardised, ‘plug-and-play’ ISO-footprint containerised batteryroom solution used for battery-on-board (BOB) applications.
At the time of the introduction, Shell global category manager-marine, Bo Jardine, pointed to the environmental, flexibility and lifecycle benefits of Corvus BOB.
“Batteries are going to be on board as the industry decarbonises, regardless of which fuels are used now or in the future,” said Mr Jardine, who is responsible for chartering OSVs. “The benefit of a containerised battery system is that you can add more containers if additional capacity is needed, or move containers to another vessel in your fleet if charter contracts or operational requirements require it.”
Shell has been one of the charterers increasingly requiring battery storage in its tenders for OSVs to reduce fuel consumption, cut CO2 emissions and increase safety in its offshore energy activities.
A standardised, class-approved, modular batteryroom solution available in 10-ft and 20-ft ISO high-cube container sizes, Corvus BOB comes with battery modules, battery monitoring system (BMS), cooling, TR exhaust, and a firefighting and detection system.
“Batteries are going to be on board as the industry decarbonises, regardless of which fuels are used”
Wärtsilä, which offers its own containerised battery technology, has introduced a ‘swappable’ battery container equipped with safety systems and a connection for remote monitoring. Interestingly, once the energy in the mobile battery solution is discharged, the container can be exchanged for a fully-charged unit. The depleted container can be charged onshore using energy from renewable sources. The first battery containers were fitted on a Dutch inland waterway container vessel Alphenaar. Such technology could find its way into the offshore energy market.
In September, ABB released details of its Containerized Energy Storage (ESS) housed in a 20-ft high-cube ISO container and ready to integrate with the vessel’s main power distribution system.
ABB says Containerized ESS brings new simplicity to energy storage retrofitting, with all batteries, converters, transformer, controls, cooling and auxiliary equipment pre-assembled in the self-contained unit for ‘plug and play’ use.
ABB sees the OSV market as particularly attractive for Containerized ESS because electrical-room space on board is especially limited.
With the increased use of batteries in the offshore sector, US-based OneStep Power Solutions, Inc had anticipated a surge in demand for power-system testing, notably for dynamically positioned (DP) vessels.
The company’s testing solutions demonstrate how an OSV’s system operates in a fault scenario: short circuit, loss of sensing, or rapid changes in voltage. But to do that, personnel need access to the vessel or facility.
Once the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, in-person testing of vessel power systems was no longer a practical option.
“The lockdown presented an amazing opportunity for us to come out with some new technologies and build the relationships with our overseas clients,” says OneStep Power Solutions founding director Sarah Whiteford.
Given the current challenging economic climate for the offshore and maritime sectors, reducing testing costs for clients was a primary focus for OneStep Power. “Testing is a necessity, not a luxury,” says Ms Whiteford. “The industry needs to have safe and proven power systems aboard their vessels. We want to test vessels faster and improve the cost-profile of high-quality, repeatable testing.”
OneStep Power’s DCShortCUT is a testing technology for validating 24V DC cross connection fault tolerance aboard DP vessels.
The DCShortCUT unit is temporarily installed to the system under test. Using a controller and human-machine interface (HMI), the DCShortCUT induces a series of faults in the 24V DC system. This enables load-step tests, overload tests, short circuits, short to ground, over-voltage and failure of power-supply tests to be carried out.
Ms Whiteford says the development of DCShortCUT represents a significant shift in the risk profile of 24V DC cross-connections. “These cross-connections are vital to the control of many vessels. Proving the cross-connection safely, quickly and in a repeatable manner is the only way to maintain the reliability of a cross-connected system,” she concludes.
Innovative lifting equipment will make foundation installations safer
Huisman has signed a contract with offshore contractor DEME for the delivery of a 2,300-tonne lifting spreader and a set of adaptive damping tugger winches. The tools will be installed on DEME’s installation vessel Orion.
Huisman and DEME worked together on the optimisation of the design of the spreader in order to increase the safety and efficiency of monopile installations.
The unique design enables ‘hands-free’ sling handling of monopiles, controlled remotely, and powered by an exchangeable battery pack.
The lifting spreader is designed for the installation of next-generation monopiles and can be extended in order to handle 120-m-long monopiles with a diameter of up to 12 m.
To ensure maximum control of the monopiles during installation, Huisman will also deliver a set of remote-operated, adaptive damping tugger winches.
Making use of a specially developed damping algorithm, the winches will actively suppress monopile swaying motions, increasing workability and safety.