Lasers and a window in a ship’s hull: scientists work to improve shipping efficiency

Every shipping manager wages an endless battle against fouling—the bacteria, seaweed, barnacles and other marine life that take residence on the hull of ships.

This biofouling is thought to add more than 20 per cent to the fuel costs of commercial shipping—that’s a big cost for the maritime trading nations of Australia and Indonesia.

Using lasers and a window in a ship’s hull, a team of scientists from both countries will assess how quickly the efficiency of the ship declines, then how to balance fuel efficiency and the cost of putting a ship in dry dock to clean it.

“Essentially we’ve built a laboratory worth thousands of dollars inside the hull of the ship,” says Professor I Ketut Aria Pria Utama from Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS).

“Once we clearly know how things are growing on the bottom, and the effect this has on fuel efficiency, we can suggest more informed antifouling strategies, saving time and money for boat operators and passengers.” The team combines the maritime experience of engineers from ITS with fluid mechanics expertise at the University of Melbourne and the University of Southampton, along with protective coating group Hempel.

“Research discussions with ship operators all go well until we say ‘and now we just need to put a small hole in the side of your ship,’” says Associate Professor Nicholas Hutchins of the University of Melbourne.

“But our Indonesian collaborators persuaded the PT Dharma Lautan Utama line to allow us to install a 30cm window in the hull of one of their inter-island ferries, the 71 metre Dharma Kencana IX, which transports people between Java and South Sumatra.”

Credit for banner image: Nadia Astari.