Great Lakes Steamships May Get Natural Gas

| USA, Superior WI

Steamship "Edward L Ryerson" (Image: Wikimedia)

The Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute (GLMRI), a consortium of the University of Wisconsin-Superior and the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and affiliate universities will examine whether natural gas is a practical fuel for steam-powered freighters on the Great Lakes. The consortium has received a five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration (MARAD), to address environmental issues that face shipping and marine transportation.

MARAD, in partnership with industry, has directed that during the first year GLMRI research the feasibility of converting the existing steam-powered vessels to using natural gas, either compressed (CNG) or liquefied (LNG), as their primary fuel source. The results of the studies should benefit not only maritime commerce in the Great Lakes region, but other transportation modes along with ports and vessels operating on the inland rivers and coastal waters.

GLMRI’s research team is led by Dr. Richard Stewart, director of the Transportation and Logistics Research Center at UW-Superior and co-director of GLMRI, with project management support from UM-Duluth. GLMRI is bringing in additional research expertise from its affiliate universities, industry and government agencies as the cooperative agreement progresses during the coming years.

One conceptual study will analyze the engineering, financial, environmental and energy issues associated with steamship conversion. The research team for this project is led by Dr. Michael Parsons, professor emeritus from the University of Michigan’s Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Department.

Another directed study will explore the LNG supply chain needed to support the fuel demand for the fleet with the potential for this fuel to be used by other modes of transportation. GLMRI will be working with the gas suppliers and pipeline companies on this study.

For a decade, Norway has operated natural gas powered ferries and is building natural gas powered Coast Guard vessels. The European Union has embarked on an approximately $14 Million study on converting vessels operating in the Baltic and other Emission Control Areas to using natural gas as a primary fuel.

GLMRI, through the U.S. government, will be engaged in cooperative exchange with the EU research team. GLMRI, working with MARAD, will explore potential collaboration with Canadian researchers in using natural gas as a maritime fuel.

GLMRI and the Great Lakes and Rivers Section of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers will co-host a multi-day education and information transfer session in Cleveland, Ohio, in February 2012 that will bring in academics, industry and government agencies from the U.S., Europe and Canada.

GLMRI is working with the Lake Michigan Carferry Service and marine engineering experts in exploring the feasibility of converting the steamship Badger to run it engines on natural gas. The team will be modeling the vessel’s fuel consumption, routes, shore fueling station(s) and engineering to look at the viability of using natural gas.The demonstration project will also consider training needs and shipyard implications of the power conversions. Converting the vessel to natural gas as a primary fuel could have the potential to make the Badger one of the greenest vessels operating on the Great Lakes.

(This article compiled using information from a University of Wisconsin press release)

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