Robotic hull cleaning system could significantly reduce industry CO2

Following a call to rethink the challenge of global biofouling, Norwegian coatings supplier Jotun has done just that. Jotun is offering a new hull cleaning system designed for challenging vessel operations that, it says, if widely adopted, could help to reduce shipping’s carbon emissions, according to Rivieramm.com.

Jotun developed its Hull Skating Solutions (HSS) system in partnership with Kongsberg, Semcon, DNV GL, Telenor, Wallenius Wilhelmsen, Berge Bulk and Maersk and has been testing it on vessels and at selected ports. 

The system consists of a remotely operated, machine-learning enabled robot called HullSkater that cleans vessels’ hulls, but Jotun business development director Geir Axel Oftedahl says the robotic cleaner was just one part of a larger system.

“It is a bigger solution, and it consists of the HullSkater, a high-performance coating SeaQuantum Skate, real-time fouling alerts, remote operation with trained skate operators and finally, a set of performance and service-level guarantees,” he says. “All of this integrated into one, full solution. The integration here is important. Since we control all the parts, we have been able to make sure that all the parts work together in harmony.”

Oftedahl also says that the move from Jotun’s traditional market segment into robotics was a major leap that required a good deal of assistance.

“The introduction of our hull performance solution back in 2011 had really opened our minds to innovative solutions outside the paint can,” he continues. “We did not know anything about robotics, however, so when we came to realise that robotics had the potential to really revolutionise the market for hull performance, we did the sensible thing. We approached a global leader in subsea robotics in Kongsberg and asked their advice.”

According to Rivieramm.com, Kongsberg was only too happy to join, but Kongsberg chief executive Geir Håøy notes that shipowner Wallenius Wilhelmsen senior vice president Geir Fagerheim’s reaction was not as convinced initially,  although the shipowner quickly came around to the appeal of the project’s broader implications and used one of their vessels as a testing ground.

“[I was]… surprised that a company mainly known for selling paint was coming to me with this advanced technical solution… I must admit there was a bit of scepticism… Could they really make this work, across the globe in the harshest environments and remotely operated? Because that is a huge challenge. We have had this in operation on our vessel Talisman for two years, working across the globe, and it has been a really interesting challenge and a good journey,” Fagerheim says.

“From our side, we can see this as a potential game-changer in the way we manage biofouling… it is a self-sufficient solution, so there is no need for interference or action from the office to make this happen. It is a semi-autonomous solution to keep the hulls clean at all times and thereby also avoid the overconsumption [of fuel] from biofouling, which could be huge, while also helping us keep the emissions down.”

Kongsberg executive vice president of sensors and robotics Arne Rinnan likened HullSkater’s undersea operational environment to deep space due to its hostility and said Kongsberg saw technological and business development opportunities ahead as he described Kongsberg’s contribution to the system.

“One element is autonomy… we have a series of sensors which are crucial to get this operating reliably. We have battery technology and we also have connectivity solutions which we are applying in the HullSkater. It is a great challenge to navigate [the robot] on these huge hulls without getting lost, and we are doing that by combining the sensors with machine learning,” he said.

“It is important to make complexity simple. And that is another way of looking at the integration. This really needs to be reliable and simple in day-to-day operation.”

According to Jotun, HSS provides condition monitoring services tailored for each vessel. The solution uses a proprietary algorithm and big data to accurately predict fouling development and cleaning schedules. 

Jotun said HSS will help ship operators combat early stages of fouling and significantly reduce fuel costs, CO₂ emissions and the spread of invasive species.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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