Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Breaking down Arctic barriers

The latest technologies in shipping offer oil tankers the possibility of year-round navigation in the Arctic without the need for expensive support from ice-breakers.

Background

The European Union is becoming increasingly dependent on imported energy, with one fundamental p...
The latest technologies in shipping offer oil tankers the possibility of year-round navigation in the Arctic without the need for expensive support from ice-breakers.

Background

The European Union is becoming increasingly dependent on imported energy, with one fundamental policy aimed at diversifying the sources of supply as much as possible.Confirmed oil and gas reserves in Northern Russia and the Russian sector of the Arctic are as high as those in the Middle East, with the area earmarked to be a major supplier of Europe's energy needs in the future. However, getting the region's riches to consumers is a major problem. Pipelines would be hugely expensive to build, with extreme temperature variations posing questions about whether they would rupture and cause the sort of environmental disasters that have already occurred in Russia. The other option for oil companies is to use large tankers capable of operating independently in ice-bound Arctic waters for the major part of the year, without accompanying ice-breakers. However, until recently their capabilities were largely untested under such conditions.

Working Partnerships

The "Arcdev" project provided a platform for around 20 companies and research institutes, from the EU and Russia, to try out their ship propulsion, ship routing, and communications technology in the Arctic, the high point being a voyage in one of the toughest winters the region has experienced for 30 years. Preliminary results from 17 different programmes suggest that a combination of technologies can offer the possibility of year-round navigation in the western Russian Arctic without the expensive support of ice-breakers. Longer term, the Arctic route could become an important trade route between Europe and Asia. The distance between Hamburg and Japan is around 7,000 nautical miles (13,000 kilometres) by this route compared with over 11,500 nautical miles (21,000 kilometres) via the Suez canal.

Description, impact and results

Manoeuvring a large tanker filled with thousands of tonnes of liquefied gas or crude oil is difficult enough in ordinary conditions. In the Arctic, there is even less room for mistakes. Vessels must follow closely the path the lead tanker has cut through the ice, but must also be able to stop quickly if it encounters difficulties. A new propulsion system, Azipod, developed by the Finnish Kvaerner Masa-Yards and ABB Industry, Finland, proved it could work extremely well in Arctic conditions, with stopping and turning distances of around the length of a ship, which are much shorter than conventional systems. The Azipod system, often fitted as a supplement to a ship's normal propeller propulsion, also offers extra design flexibility for ice-breaking tankers with, for example, the bow designed for normal open sea-going conditions and the stern reinforced for ice.

Satellite images of ice packs, from Russian and European sources, weather information and long-term meteorological data were collated to find the best routes. This allowed the Arcdev convey to take a much longer route than another vessel making the same journey but still arrive in port two days before it. Such time savings are invaluable for shipping companies. The project also successfully tested the transmission of television images from Brussels to the convoy - the first time such long-distance transmissions have been attempted in a region often troubled by interference and black spots in satellite coverage. Such link-ups can provide immediate medical or other emergency advice on a ship which could be thousands of kilometres from the nearest facilities.


Source: European Commission, DG XIII/D.4 - Information and Dissemination of Scientific and Technical Knowledge
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