Denmark’s Blue INNOship series of research projects will end next month with the operators of the one stand-out project, the Trailer Cat roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) catamaran, already negotiating to develop the research into reality.
Denmark’s DKK50 million (US$8.3 million) Blue INNOship scheme was launched in 2015, and remains the country’s largest maritime innovation project. Blue INNOship is part of the Danish government’s Blue Denmark initiative to spur growth and employment through the development of energy-efficient solutions. Its long-term goal is to develop an innovative model for the Danish maritime industry to give it a competitive advantage. The maritime industry has also backed the initiative with a further DKK70 million from private Danish investors.
Among the new technology programs is a vessel design called the Trailer Cat, a ro-ro vessel that could be of interest to owners looking to develop freight services.
Trailer Cat, a two-deck catamaran, is designed to aid shortsea operators coming under competitive pressure from road and rail systems as environmental regulations make shipping more expensive in the future.
Starting with a blank sheet of paper, the Trailer Cat partners sought to create a vessel that would keep unit costs and emissions down. During deliberations, the designers realised the vessel would need to be significantly bigger than conventional ferries to reduce unit costs, but a larger vessel would also take longer to load and unload.
The 8,100-lane metre (lm) vessel boasts significant advantages over a traditional 3,800 lm ro-ro vessel. Trailer Cat has a total capacity of 543 units, compared with 250 units on a traditional ro-ro, and the total running cost per trailer of Trailer Cat is €47.30 (US$58.50), much less than the €80.20/trailer on a traditional ro-ro. Trailer Cat’s annual fuel consumption is also significantly less, with an annual fuel cost of €4,300/voyage, compared with €5,700/voyage for its nearest rival.
With much of the global ro-ro trade centred on Europe, the research used the Harwich, United Kingdom-to-Rotterdam, The Netherlands, service as its reference route during design and development. According to Trailer Cat project co-ordinator and naval architect Claus Kruse, one of the drivers of the research programme is that current ro-ro vessels are operating with the same design concept as in the 1970s, even though they are far larger than their older cousins.
According to Kruse, the Trailer Cat designers decided that the best way to analyse what would be possible was to take a route that they could use as reference for trades and focus their new vessel design through the prism of this route.
Once the route had been chosen, the group realised there were significant efficiencies available, without the need for a difficult new design, by simply reducing the vessel’s speed on water and increasing the efficiency of turnaround times. That means that faster loading and unloading times are crucial to the Trailer Cat concept.
Trailer Cat has been designed as a side-loader to increase its loading speed. It uses a two-tier hinged linkspan specifically designed for the vessel, and has no internal ramps, so twice as many trailers can be loaded simultaneously, compared to a conventional ro-ro vessel. By having two loading points, the vessel can handle cargo faster, and then reduce its operating speed, which saves fuel, costs and the environment and it is able to maintain a schedule with timings that are competitive with road and rail.
Kruse noted that Trailer Cat, which is powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), will not only cut out virtually all nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and particulate emissions, but will also decrease carbon emissions by about 15 percent and, with slower speeds and a refined hull design, the vessel could save up to 70 percent in carbon emissions per unit.
The vessel boasted significantly reduced emissions during computer trials compared with a traditional 3,800 lm ro-ro. Per voyage, the Trailer Cat consumed 13.7 tonnes of fuel (or 25.2 kilograms[kg]/trailer), down from 19.8 tonnes (or 79.2 kg/trailer) for a traditional ro-ro. Total carbon emissions were also about half.
Arne Martinsen, president at Transmar Ltd, one of the Blue INNOship project partners that helped with the analysis of the European traffic route, said, “The goal of Trailer Cat’s participation in Blue INNOship is to achieve a significant reduction in both cost and carbon emissions per trailer transported when compared with conventional vessels in shortsea trade lanes.”
He also noted that the Trailer Cat’s large capacity is vital to its efficiency. “This feature alone will substantially reduce the per-trailer transport costs, particularly when it’s combined with the system’s extremely efficient cargo handling to provide extraordinarily fast turnaround [times] at both port terminals on the route.”
Martinsen said, “The very large size and capacity of these catamaran vessels is a challenge with respect to consolidation of goods and providing high sailing frequency on the designated routes. Therefore, these vessels are most suitable for trips on routes with large volumes and medium-length distances.”
A Copenhagen-based company has been formed to transform the now virtually complete research project into a real entity, with potential investors invited to scrutinise its results.
The company, Trailer Cat Services Holdings, is part of the Danish government’s Blue INNOship funding programme and is working with partners to further develop the technical, operational, and commercial aspects of this new maritime transport and logistics system.
Trailer Cat has an opportunity to disrupt the way shortsea cargo is transported, and while the door-to-door system only uses currently known technologies in a unique way, there is plenty of scope to develop aspects of the vessel if new technologies appear. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Trailer Cat could use blockchain technology to vastly improve throughput times for cargo, particularly in the area of customs declarations, a particular concern at the moment for those operating in the British market.