Containerships are the backbone of global trade, ferrying literally tons of cargo between international ports every day. But those frequent trips come at an environmental cost, with maritime transport generating about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Now, two Scandinavian companies have developed a device to reduce that pollution by scrubbing barnacles and other aquatic growth off the hulls of vessels, allowing them to slip through the water with less resistance and, thus, burn less fuel. Norway-based paint and marine coatings company Jotun has teamed up with the Swedish product development specialist Semcon to create an underwater robot that uses magnetic wheels to crawl along the submerged hulls of containerships, scraping them clean as it goes.
Known as the “HullSkater,” the tool is a remotely operated robotic vehicle that inspects the underwater hull and removes any biofilm detected, the partners say. It works by using cameras and sensors to document any “fouling” on the ship’s hull, sending that data stream to a human operator through a long cable. The unit, which is propelled by electric motors attached to its magnetic wheels, can complete a cleaning job in two to eight hours, depending on the vessel’s size and condition.
After this type of “proactive cleaning,” a typical bulk carrier can cut its carbon dioxide emissions by around 12.5% over a 60-month period, according to the companies. Users can simply store a “HullSkater” on board the vessel and deploy it whenever the ship is idle, they add.
The partners say they are now in the final “verification” phase of the device’s development and plan to launch a fully commercialized version in 2021.