Technology, R&D: Charting A Steady Course For Cleaner Seas

As the buzz concerning MARPOL regulatory compliance continues to gather energy, an issue surfacing is that of design-related compliance. Advancements in technological research and development, along with the implementation of subsequent equipment applications, could, in effect, serve to facilitate dual accountability, with environmental responsibility being placed not only with shipowners and operators, but also with vessel designers and builders. This would remove some of the burden of enforcement that has befallen the U.S. Coast Guard and other regulatory agencies, effectively elimating one of the greatest obstacles to the success of MARPOL.

Waste management system improvements have dominated the spotlight thus far, most likely due to the fact that vessels with garbage that is efficiently stowed, incinerated, or otherwise compressed are not subject to a high frequency of offloading procedures, which are costly and cumbersome; and are less likely to participate in the potentially more expensive alternative practice of illegal dumping.

A report — Clean Ships, Clean Ports, Clean Seas — released on September 5, 1995, by the U.S. National Research Council (NRC), the principle operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, includes a discussion of shipboard technologies and practices as related to solid waste management. The report lauds ship designs that incorporate waste management equipment into technical arrangements, stating that they "...provide the best possible means of complying with Annex V. This approach elevates the mundane task of garbage handling to the same level of importance as all the other auxiliary systems considered during ship construction." Navy officials and executives at Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) are among influential maritime agents in agreement with this conclusion, as evidenced by the Westinghouse Electric Corp./ Naval Sea Systems Command $7.3 million contract for plastic waste processing (PWP) systems, and by an R&D program begun in early 1995 at Newport News — Environmentally Compatible Product Lines — that is assessing how ships' systems, on both commercial and military vessels, can be developed for compliance with marine pollution standards.

MARPOL-lnspired Solutions Surface According to Phil Wright, manager of special product sales for Westinghouse Marine Division's Business Development department, Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s August 9th contract with Naval Sea Systems Command is the culmination of a four to five-year-old Navy project aimed at effectively reducing the volume of plastics on all its vessels. "They recognized they had a problem with waste building up on ships, and knew they had to address it," said Mr. Wright.

After examining the commercial shipping industry, Navy engineers devised plans for adapting a plastic waste processing system for installation on military vessels, and then contracted with Westinghouse Machinery Technology Division in Pittsburgh, Pa., to build prototypes consisting of three system components: shredders; compressed-melt units; and closed loop cooling units. Following the successful construction of prototype PWP systems, the Navy awarded two contracts for building and supplying the systems; a contract for 22 systems was given to Westinghouse Electric Systems Co., Baltimore, Md., with final machinery assembly to be completed at the Westinghouse Marine Division in Sunnyvale, Calif.; and a contract for 21 systems was awarded to Universal Technologies Inc. in Tennessee.

Extendable options include provisions for the construction of more than 200 additional PWP systems. Tech Developments Lend A Practical Spin To Waste Management The PWP equipment is designed for three-step operation, although the process is adaptable depending on the needs of specific vessel applications. After plastic garbage collection, the primary step is insertion of the waste into a shredder, which measures approximately 6-ft. by 2- ft. by 2.5-ft. (1.82 m x .6 m x .76 m), and is equipped with a bin with teeth on the inside. The teeth grind the plastic, and the byproducts descend to a recycling bin at the bottom of the unit. The shredded materials then proceed to the compressed-melt unit —a circular chamber, about two feet deep. "Shredded up plastic put here electrically heats up to over 300 degrees, emitting no noxious fumes, yet melting plastic," said Mr .Wright. A piston compresses the plastic as it melts into a 20-in. diameter disk, and shuts off when the process is completed. And disk storage? "They're (naval engineers) just stacking them up. Where they had a problem was when they had thirty times the amount. Once you're got them reduced, they take up a tremendously less amount of space, and (you) no longer have the problem of offloading," said the Westinghouse representative. Reportedly, the Navy has plans for reusing the disks in different applications, including in the construction of pier pilings.

Equipment Design Emphasizes Easy Adaptability For Vessel Applications The PWP equipment requires that only minimal retrofitting be performed on recipient vessels, a characteristic which adds to the ease of installation already incorporated in the design. Provisions for convenient maintenance of the waste management system are also inherent in the design scheme. Since the PWP equipment fits easily in a small room, and accepts every kind of plastic, including food-contaminated waste, the next important factor is cost assessment. In terms of maintenance costs, according to project engineers, once the equipment installations are completed, which will be in two years' time, the Navy will perform all maintenance. "Sailors onboard will be able to maintain the equipment," said Mr. Wright. "The complexity was designing it and building it to fit in a small space." Peter McGraw, plastics programs engineer in the Environmental Dept. of the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division at Annapolis, pointed out that in considering expenses, space preparation costs overran equipment costs, although the extent of necessary retrofitting work will vary considerably according to the vessel or class of vessels on which the PWP systems are installed.

"We've designed it (PWP equipment) to fit through standard passageways for easy installation, without burning holes. Depending on the ship and class of ships, some will require space preps, putting up sheathing, tearing out equipment, or possibly running seawater or ventilation lines," said Mr. McGraw.

He illustrated this point by explaining that while a frigate might require two compressed-melt units and a cooling unit, an estimate of the PWP equipment required for an aircraft carrier would include five or six shredders, 14 compressed-melt units, and seven cooling units. The Naval Surface Warfare Center representative said that the retrofit work will be completed at U.S. yards, both Navy and commercial, adding that the equipment was designed to also allow installation at sea.

R&D Focuses On Green Ship Applications Westinghouse is currently adapting PWP equipment for use in the commercial sector. "We're developing plans for (a) potentially) huge market in the cruise ship, merchant marine, offshore and land-based market, and, of course, other NATO navies," said Mr. Wright. This is possible due to the fact that "...the cost in production, compared to the cost of non-compliance with MARPOL, or the cost of incineration service ... is attractive," he concluded. The tightening of MARPOL standards has also prompted the Navy to address the design of ships' systems in addition to waste management systems. Currently, Naval Sea Systems Command is conducting research and development projects in the areas of oily water and grey water systems.

Newport News Shipbuilding's Environmentally Compatible Product Lines project is also striving to improve ships' systems in the attempt to design "green" ships. The NNS project goal, according to Jerri Dickseski, senior communications representative, "is enhancing our ships' marketability." "We're looking at different waste streams on ships we build, as well as systems that meet or exceed (MARPOL) regulations," she said. According to the NNS representative, research is being done on systems already created, or in the process of being developed, for the purpose of "assessing the environmental compatibility of our ships with the systems." For example, the yard is examining the E3 tanker design. Specifically, NNS is looking at what systems the vessel uses, as well as any products or systems to do with the waste stream of the vessel, such as air and water discharges.

Progressive Vessel Design Will Spark Environmental Progress Establishing clear-cut environmental responsibility is vital to carrying out the steps necessary for compliance with MARPOL regulations. While modern vessel design dictates the brunt of responsibility be assumed by vessel owners and operators, research programs and the technological developments that have ensued are making progress towards incorporating environmental responsibility into the vessel de- sign stage. Essentially, two obstacles currently exist for shippers seeking to follow MARPOL standards: first, the absence of adequate onshore waste disposal facilities; and second, the lack of space for storing waste onboard vessels. According to Linda Sheehan, pollution programs manager at the Center for Marine Conservation, "I think technology can go a long way in addressing these problems. Complying with MARPOL is not necessarily a matter of figuring out what needs to be done. We need to keep waste on the ship, and take it back to shore. Technology can assist in the practical aspects of getting it done.

Maritime Reporter Magazine Cover Oct 2019 - Marine Design Annual

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