Greener maritime transport with “flying” ferries


Soon, electric passenger ferries that will fly over the surface of the seas could become a reality. At Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, a research team has created a unique method to further develop hydrofoils that can significantly increase the range of electric vessels and reduce the fuel consumption of fossil-powered vessels by up to 80%. While the electrification of cars is well advanced, passenger ferries around the world are still powered almost exclusively by fossil fuels. The limiting factor is the battery capacity, which is not enough to power ships and ferries over longer distances. But now researchers from Chalmers and the SSPA Marine Research Center have succeeded in developing a method that can make the shipping industry much greener in the future. The focus is on hydrofoils which, like fenders, lift the hull of the boat above the surface of the water and allow the boat to travel with much less water resistance. A technology that has revolutionized sailing in recent years, thanks to which hydrofoils fly over the boats of elite sailors at very high speed.

The Chalmers and SSPA researchers now want to enable the hydrofoil principle of sailing ships to also be used on larger passenger ferries, which will result in huge benefits for the climate.

“The electrification of ferries cannot be done without drastically reducing their watertightness. This method will allow the development of new foil designs capable of reducing resistance by up to 80%, which would significantly increase the autonomy of a battery-powered vessel. This way we could also use electric ferries over longer distances in the future,” says research director Arash Eslamdoost, associate professor of applied hydrodynamics at Chalmers and author of the Fluid-Structure Interaction of a Foiling study. Craft published in the Journal of Marine. Science and Engineering.

Even for ships that run on fossil fuels today, the climate benefit could be enormous, as similar hydrofoil technology could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 80%.

Unique measurement method attracts wide interest

At the center of the research project is a unique measurement technique that the researchers have developed in order to understand in detail how hydrofoils behave in water when, for example, the load or speed increases or the positioning of the the hydrofoil changes. Using the data collected during the experiments, the team developed and validated a method to simulate and predict with high accuracy the behavior of the hydrofoil under various conditions. The method is unique and can now be used to develop hydrofoil designs for electric hydrofoil ferries.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the SSPA research center – one of the few of its kind in the world – where Laura Marimon Giovannetti works as a researcher and project manager. She is the lead author of the study and has herself competed at elite level for the British and Italian National Sailing Teams. Today, she is a research and development advisor to the Swedish Olympic committee and the Swedish national team and her goal is to help the team win more medals at the 2024 Olympics. Marimon Giovannetti sees many possibilities for the unique measurement method developed by the team:

“At the Americas Cup in San Francisco Bay in 2013, it was the first time we saw a 72-foot sailboat learn to ‘fly’ using hydrofoils during competition. And since then we’ve seen a huge increase in sailboats with hydrofoils.Thanks to this new method and knowledge, we are able to bring together a range of different branches of engineering – naval architecture, advanced materials and aeronautics as well as renewable energies.

Paving the way for airboats on electric ferries

Hydrofoil technology is not new in itself, but was developed as early as the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, the goal was to make boats travel as fast as possible and hydrofoils were made of steel, a material heavy with higher maintenance costs. Today’s modern hydrofoils are made of carbon fiber, a much lighter and stiffer material that can retain its stiffness even under high loads – and can be scaled to expected loads. Part of the research project was therefore to fully understand how a carbon fiber structure behaves underwater under different operating conditions. The research team’s method developed in conjunction with modern technology now paves the way for the use of carbon fiber hydrofoils on larger passenger vessels that can travel in a safe, controlled and climate-friendly manner, even at low speed.

“You want the foil to be as efficient as possible, which means carrying as much weight as possible at as low a speed as possible with the least resistance. Our next goal is to use this method when designing more efficient hydrofoils for ferries in the future,” says Eslamdoost.

Learn more about the scientific article

The study “Fluid-structure interaction of a foiling machine” was published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering. The authors are Laura Marimon Giovannetti, Ali Farousi, Fabian Ebbesson, Alois Thollot, Alex Shiri and Arash Eslamdoost. Researchers are active at SSPA and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and at INP-ENSEEITH in France.

Funding from Hugo Hammar of the SSPA and funding from Rolf Sörman of Chalmers University of Technology provided the financial support to conduct the experimental tests at the SSPA. This study also received funding from the Chalmers University of Technology Foundation for the Hydro- and Aerodynamics Strategic Research Project.

/University release. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author or authors.View Full here.

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