All aboard: Vessels sail into greener territory with NRC data analytics

- St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

Launching of wave buoy during speed and power sea trials on the CCGS Cygnus

New methodology launched by the NRC converts big data collected from vessel operations into fuel-efficient and cost‑effective solutions.

Whether ice‑breaking in the remote Arctic, patrolling the seafood‑rich Grand Banks or ferrying passengers and cargo to international ports, Canada's commercial and government fleets are doing important work around the clock. Traditionally, these essential missions have been powered by fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases (GHG) that contribute to climate change.

The global race is on to curb the effects of climate change on health, weather, food and the environment. Thanks to the National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre, Canada's fleets are well past the starting line. Aligned with the Government of Canada's (GoC) greening strategy, the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre has been crafting research to harness the vast amounts of data about fuel usage and GHG emissions collected by many ships.

"Many vessel owners don't have the in‑house capability or capacity to optimize the use of this data," says Allison Kennedy, Team Lead, Marine Performance and Evaluation, Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre. "And this is where we can help." The Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre's strong research team specializes in ocean and naval architectural engineering, and, along with the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre's Data Science and Artificial Intelligence team, is experienced in analyzing large data sets.

Kennedy explains that the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre's approach to vessel operational data analysis, which takes many forms and can be tailored to any fleet's needs, has limitless possibilities for tackling and solving operational challenges. "We can use this operational data to provide shipping operators with strategies for reducing fuel consumption and related costs in this very competitive industry."

Sailing toward greener operations

Launching of wave buoy during speed and power sea trials on the CCGS Cygnus

After Engineering Manager Marcel Montrose came on board at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), he reached out to the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre to test the data collected by the Canadian Coast Guard on a Grand Banks fisheries patrol vessel, the CCGS Cygnus. He needed to prove that a hull‑cleaning method improved fuel consumption efficiencies.

"The NRC was already doing performance evaluations based on fuel‑consumption data, so we asked them to help us leverage the information to determine how cleaning marine growth and debris from the hull affected speed and power," he says. "Quantifying the improvement, which turned out to be 5%, helped us enhance operations planning—including cleaning frequency."

According to Montrose, this research project opened DFO's eyes to the benefits of working with the NRC. "The Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre's skills in engineering innovations and critical thinking have become important aspects of our daily lives."

On the west coast, BC Ferries was also able to tap into the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre's talents. As one of the world's largest ferry operators, the company has more than 35 vessels that transport people (60,000 passengers per day), cars and cargo along 25 routes. They wanted to assess the effectiveness of an exceptionally smooth hull coating that lowers fuel consumption by reducing friction on the hull as it cuts through water. They had collected 10 months' worth of data before and after applying the test coating to the Queen of Oak Bay, a 310‑car ferry. Chanwoo Bae, BC Ferries' Engineering Manager of Naval Architecture, retained the NRC to quantify the coating's effects. The Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre used specialized instrumentation to measure the variation in power demand before and after the coating was applied. "This is only one of many initiatives to increase vessel efficiency, consume less fuel and protect the environment," he says.

The data accumulated minute‑by‑minute requires cutting‑edge analytics, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). Bae reports that, realizing AI is the future of data analytics, the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre retained a graduate student from Simon Fraser University who specializes in ML and AI to delve deeper into the BC Ferries data and manage the complex analytics.

"The NRC is definitely a brain pool for our industry," adds Bae. "One company alone can't have all that capacity, so being able to draw on such talent and facilities for knowledge and expertise is very beneficial."

The Canadian Armed Forces is also a big consumer of power and energy, and is tasked with finding more sustainable ways of accessing energy at a reasonable cost. To that end, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) has collected considerable operational data.

"We started developing energy models to help us analyze what the power demands, fuel savings and GHG reductions would be under various conditions," says Gisele Amow, Senior Researcher, DRDC. The first such model for nautical purposes, built by Quebec‑based CanmetENERGY, replicates the operation of a Royal Canadian Navy Halifax Class Frigate. "We're using it to validate an anticipated 10% reduction in GHGs against a baseline of the fleet's emissions."

Amow points out that each DRDC research dollar is carefully invested in the right capability and expertise. "With their knowledge of commercial ship platforms, the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre was the ideal collaborator for this project."

Riding the wave of success

According to Kennedy, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), responsible for regulating shipping across the globe, is increasing requirements for shipping data collection and reporting. This means that more vessels than ever will have an abundance of data at hand that the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre can analyze to support improved and greener operations.

To prepare for the future, the Ocean, Coastal and River Engineering Research Centre is adding capabilities for providing clients with decision‑making information to manage fuel consumption, safety and other basics. This includes hiring new specialists in data analytics and grooming ocean and naval architectural engineering graduate students with ML and AI expertise.

"Our clients and collaborators across the globe have the same energy challenges," she says. "So any decision‑making products launched in Canada can circumnavigate the world."

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