Alfa Laval, a world leader in heat transfer, centrifugal separation and fluid handling, has acquired a minority stake in the Netherlands-based technology company Marine Performance Systems (MPS). MPS’ air lubrication technology (FluidicAL) significantly reduces ships’ friction when sailing, resulting in fuel savings. The patented solution can be installed on vessels of any size or fuel type and is also suitable for retrofit.
A ship’s friction when underway is the most significant driver of its fuel consumption; the cost of fuel represents up to 60% of a vessel’s operating expenditures. Fuel consumption has also a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions, as reducing 1 ton of fossil fuel consumption equals the reduction of approximately 3 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
FluidicAL works on the principle of creating and maintaining an air layer underneath the ship’s hull to reduce the friction, when sailing, between the ship’s hull and surrounding water. The air layer is created by introducing millions of micro air bubbles directly into the boundary layer, reducing the drag by 50-70% and enabling net fuel savings of 8-12% during normal service speed.
FluidicAL uses the patented combination of Fluidic oscillators, integrated into wing-shaped bands, to generate up to 240,000 micro air bubbles per second per running meter, or approximately 80 million air bubbles per second underneath an Aframax tanker.
FluidicAL consists of standard components that can be installed at any shipyard worldwide in days, but its performance is uniquely optimized to the ship’s operation profile. The installation does not interfere with the ship’s water integrity, requires no re-certification of the vessel, and is managed from the bridge: fully automated or in manual mode.
MPS says that MPS Fluidic Air Lubrication is more energy efficient than other air lubrication technologies (by up to 50%), by injecting the air bubbles directly into the boundary layer. Only one to two compressors are required, versus up to eight in other current systems.
Existing systems also inject air through multiple slots, orifices or “chests”. This can lead to a very uneven distribution of the air, which reduces the Air Lubrication effect and leads to air losses. These designs are inherently unstable and difficult to control, when the ship rolls or drifts, MPS says. MPS Fluidic Air Lubrication is designed for high stability during operation.
The technology was first tested on a sea-going vessel in 2020 and the results have been confirmed by the shipowner during several months of operation.
Alfa Laval founder Gustaf de Laval registered a patent for a similar solution back in 1883 (although as a speed increaser, not a fuel saver) but the innovation was not commercialized at the time.