Innovating for the future of the European maritime sector

Innovating for the future of the European maritime sector
© iStock / metamorworks

Government Europa looks at projects exploring how innovative technologies could be translated to deliver the future of the European maritime sector, and an industry which is both energy efficient and safe.

In order to usher in the next generation of maritime technologies, continuous investment in the research and development of products and technologies are key in enhancing and sustaining competitiveness in the future of the European maritime sector. As a result, several high-profile projects have explored the way in which autonomy – which is already becoming a reality for personal transport – could be translated to the marine vessels of the future, in order to provide an industry which is both energy efficient and safe.

Vessels for the Future

In 2014, the Vessels for the Future (VftF) initiative was launched, bringing together those with interests in Europe’s maritime industry in a public private partnership (PPP) and overseen by the European Research Association. With 50 members which include companies, research institutes, academic organisations and interested associations, the initiative works to stimulate integration amongst shipbuilders, suppliers, research bodies and classification associations.

With a highly skilled workforce and strong investment influencing its R&D position, it is positioned as the leader in the construction of vessels which are simultaneously high-tech, safe and efficient; the VftF initiative was established to ensure that European vessels remain cutting edge and to pursue the newest market and business developments in the maritime sector. In pursuit of this aim, the project seeks to develop the innovations that will transform the future of the European maritime sector.

The initiative focuses on championing several key areas, including improving the safety and efficiency of waterborne transport, and developing a competitive maritime sector in Europe, which altogether will deliver a holistic vision of a future of the European maritime sector which is safer and cleaner. To achieve these aims, the Vessels for the Future project has set a clear goal to reduce CO2 by 80% and SOx and NOx by 100%, as well as a reduction in risk by a factor of 10, by 2050.

In order to make progress in meeting these goals, several key technologies and strategies are being developed to help unlock enhanced efficiency and improving environmental performance. These include:

  • New materials and processes;
  • Fuels and propulsion systems;
  • Information and communication technology;
  • Hull water interaction;
  • Energy management; and
  • Unique vessel design concepts.

Through the development of energy efficient and safe ships, VftF aims to address the societal challenges which surround transitioning towards sustainable transport. The project will also incorporate an innovative approach to design, manufacture and production capacities, which is expected to contribute positively to employment and the global competitiveness of Europe’s economy.

A new base for autonomous shipping

In January 2018, Rolls-Royce opened a state-of-the-art facility in Turku, Finland, whereby research activities will oversee the development of the technologies which Rolls-Royce and its partners envision will mould the future of an autonomous international shipping industry. The Research & Development Centre for Autonomous Ships will feature a Remote and Autonomous Experience facility, which aims to showcase the technologies in development.

On the opening of the R&D centre, Finland’s minister of transport and communications, Anne Berner, commented: “There is great global interest in autonomous vehicles and vessels as a future means of transport. The opening of the Rolls-Royce Research & Development Centre for Autonomous Ships here in Turku, a maritime city with a history of technological innovation, will help achieve our goal of digitalising the country’s transport sector.”

The R&D centre is anticipated to unlock the ability for Rolls-Royce, and partners, to carry out projects related to autonomous navigations, land-based control centres and the use of artificial intelligence in the vessels of the future and the operations of shipping more generally.

At the official opening, the president of Rolls-Royce, Marine Mikael Makinen, said: “I’m proud to say that the R&D centre is now up and running and that all stakeholders, partners and customers will be able to see here what a remote-controlled autonomous maritime future could look like, and work with us to shape the future. The experience space that is part of the centre here in Turku, and a similar one we have in our technology centre in Norway, is aimed at demonstrating to our customers the very tangible benefits of what is often considered an intangible technology.”

“The centre allows us to more accurately communicate our capabilities, what we have available today and what will be available tomorrow,” added Karno Tenovuo, senior vice president of ship intelligence at Rolls-Royce. “It will completely focus on the development of solutions capable of smoothing the maritime industry’s transition to the digital age. An autonomous maritime ecosystem will open up unprecedented opportunities.”


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