IMX Panelists Focus On Future Of Vessel Design, Fueling

A trio of panel discussions at the 2021 Inland Marine Expo (IMX2021) offered an in-depth look at the future of towing vessel propulsion, design and construction. Leaders from throughout the maritime industry came together to discuss forward-leaning propulsion designs, like LNG, hydrogen fuel cells and electrification; the implementation of EPA Tier 4 engine regulations on the inland waterways; and the design and construction of the mv. Dwain Harper at the McGinnis Inc. shipyard in South Point, Ohio.

Future Of Propulsion

Joshua Sebastian, engineering manager for The Shearer Group; ABB Marine & Ports Senior Account Manager David Lee; and Tim Sasseen, market development manager for Ballard Power Systems, teamed up to discuss how the need for increasing efficiencies and reducing emissions is driving some vessel operators to consider alternatives to diesel, like LNG, hydrogen fuel cells and energy storage.

“LNG as a fuel is coming to the inland rivers,” Sebastian said. “We are currently working on a number of projects converting vessels.”

One of those projects involves a pair of SCF vessels, which will operate on a combination of LNG and diesel. Sebastian said, in addition to tankage for diesel aboard the vessels, The Shearer Group’s design will add the equivalent of 12,000 gallons of diesel (DGE) of LNG. The vessels will use fumigation (or blending) technology to use LNG in place of diesel.

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“About 50 percent on average of the diesel fuel will be displaced with LNG,” Sebastian said.

SCF and The Shearer Group will closely monitor fuel efficiencies and emissions to determine the success of the dual fuel conversion.

“One of the advantages of the fumigation package is it’s a true dual fuel path, because you can run on a blend of diesel and LNG or you can run on all diesel if, for some reason, LNG is not available or if you’re under high-power applications,” he said.

Sebastian said The Shearer Group has collaborated throughout the design process with the U.S. Coast Guard, which has thus far adopted a restrictive stance on fumigation technology. The Shearer Group is now in the technical design review process with the Coast Guard.

“We expect these vessels will be on the river operating on LNG in the near future,” he said.

Sebastian said another retrofit project The Shearer Group is working on will involve overhauling a 10,000 hp., triple-screw vessel’s EMD main engines and adding a progressive rail retrofit for dynamic gas blending to inject LNG into the engines’ cylinders, along with diesel. In this application, Sebastian said, LNG will displace about 70 percent of the diesel consumption.

Lee then focused on diesel-electric and hybrid power applications for towboats. He started the discussion by highlighting emissions reduction goals for ports, terminals and cargo owners around the country, which often stretch one, two or three decades into the future. Lee said, while that seems like a long way away, it’s really not when considering the long life of a towboat.

“We’re building boats today that last 30, 40, 50 years,” Lee said. “I think I saw one in The Waterways Journal last week that’s 60 years old and just got a new COI. They last forever. If we’re building a boat today and we’re only talking about 30 years from now, we need to have this in mind when we make the decision of what to build.”

Lee said that’s why electric propulsion makes sense. It “future-proofs” a vessel’s propulsion system to allow for the source of power (diesel generators, battery storage or fuel cells) to develop over time, while utilizing the same thruster system.

Sasseen later offered an in-depth look at innovative designs Ballard is developing and already installing on vessels for liquid hydrogen fuel storage and bunkering. Compressed hydrogen gas, ammonia and methanol are all ways to use hydrogen as a marine power source. Sasseen also demonstrated how vessels can also be equipped with battery storage to supplement the hydrogen fuel source during peak power applications.

In most cases, panelists agreed, these LNG, hydrogen, hybrid and electrified propulsion systems can be designed into new construction or during repower projects.

“When you get to that repower stage, talk to people, talk to the experts and ask, ‘Does this make sense for me at this point in time on these vessels? Should we make this investment moving forward or should we keep what we have?’” Sebastian said.

Tier 4 Panel

A second panel looked more specifically at building vessels with EPA Tier 4-compliant main engines that are equipped with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems that utilize urea-based diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to reduce emissions.

The panel featured Jim Mundth, a territory sales manager for Caterpillar Marine; Rich Kulaga, innovation manager for Caterpillar Marine; John W. Stone Chief Operating Officer Tony Odak; David Reynolds, managing director of Economy Boat Store; Swathin Kannalath, managing director of Blakeley Boatworks; and Matt Warren, director of maintenance for Cooper Marine & Timberlands Corporation.

Kulaga opened the discussion by highlighting the number of Tier 4 engine and SCR packages that Caterpillar has delivered since 2015. In total, 316 engine packages have been delivered and, so far, data from those applications have shown a 5 percent usage of DEF relative to diesel consumption and about 5 percent fuel consumption reduction and carbon emissions reduction versus Tier 3 engines.

“From our view, that is a very good story, and that number seems to be accelerating,” Kulaga said. “There’s a growing comfort with SCR supply chain, which you’ll hear from our peers on the panel. There’s a growing comfort with the SCR installation on the vessel. And we continue to become better as a company, better as an engine manufacturer, to you.”

Odak and Reynolds both discussed how their companies, and others, are continuing to build availability of DEF on the inland waterways to match customer needs and broader demand throughout the industry.

“We’re very comfortable with the solution, very comfortable with the distribution of it and making it readily available, so the capability is very much there in place,” Reynolds said. 

Odak and Reynolds both highlighted how DEF comes in two concentrations: 32.5 percent urea and 40 percent urea. Odak said John W. Stone offers the 40 percent solution “because we figure, ‘Why push around more water?’” Odak added that engines and SCR systems are able to determine the urea concentration and dose accordingly. Odak also sought to reassure companies and crew members that precautions and PPE for handling DEF is the same for handling diesel.

“It’s not something to be scared of,” Odak said. “It’s basically fertilizer.”

Much of the panel discussion then focused on Cooper Marine & Timberlands’ newest vessel, built at Blakeley Boatworks, the mv. Gretchen V. Cooper. That vessel, powered by two Caterpillar C3512E main engines, is the first linehaul towing vessel in the United States to be powered by Tier 4 Caterpillar high speed engines with selective catalytic reduction.

“That’s something we’re glad to be associated with from the yard’s perspective,” Kannalath said.

Kannalath said one unique feature of the Gretchen V. Cooper is the vessel’s upper engineroom ceiling height, which is about 20 inches taller than in a typical vessel of the same size. In doing so, Blakeley was able to put the DEF tanks and SCRs together in the upper engineroom. Kannalath said the motivation of that was ease of both initial installation and future maintenance.

“We wanted to find a way to get all of this equipment in a centralized location to help, from a shipyard point of view, with the installation of the piping,” he said. 

Since the vessel went into service earlier this spring, Warren said the company has seen a 5.2 percent DEF to fuel burn rate. The vessel has tankage for 42,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 4,200 gallons of DEF.

McGinnis Builds New Vessel

IMX2021 education sessions concluded with a look at the design and construction process for McGinnis’s mv. Dwain Harper, which was built at the company’s Sheridan Shipyard and christened earlier this year (WJ, February 22). The presentation featured Sebastian, due to The Shearer Group partnering with McGinnis on the design of the vessel, and Robert Lynch, senior project manager for McGinnis.

McGinnis has a long history of vessel construction, which stretches back to 1913. However, the company had not built a new vessel since 2011, so the mv. Dwain Harper represented a relaunch of that aspect of the business. 

Remarkably, McGinnis built the vessel and received a COI for it in just nine months. Both Lynch and Sebastian noted the close collaboration between The Shearer Group and the shipyard and that the boat was designed to be heavy-built and long-lasting. With this first new construction delivered, Lynch said he fully anticipates the yard continuing to innovate and make improvements on future projects.

“As we go down the road further into the future, I see a more efficient process, and we’ll keep developing more efficiencies as we move along,” Lynch said.

Anyone who sees the mv. Dwain Harper will note the telescoping pilothouse, which is designed with visibility in mind. The pilothouse is rounded on the front, square astern, and features floor-to-ceiling windows.

“That was hands down probably the most challenging pilothouse we’ve ever designed, and I think it’s a truly neat piece,” Sebastian said.

Lynch also noted that the engines aboard the Dwain Harper are made for easy removal and replacement, along with other features to make ongoing maintenance more accessible and efficient. 

McGinnis is offering new-build services for towboats from the 1,600 hp. size of the Dwain Harper up to 4,000 hp., depending on the application and customer needs.

Lynch thanked both The Shearer Group for being so responsive during the construction process and Coast Guard officials from the Ohio River region for their close collaboration on design, inspection and certification.