The Propulsion System of the Future

By Eric Haun at July 12, 2016 11:16
Filed Under: General, New Technology, Propulsion systems, Research & Development

(Photo: MTU)

What will the future look like for MTU’s research and development? What will the marine propulsion system of the future look like? An interview with Dr. Andreas Lingens, Executive Vice President Development at MTU.

What will the future look like for MTU’s research and development?
We are currently focusing our research and development activities on four areas: one of them is the improvement of diesel technology in terms of emissions and fuel consumption. This means that exhaust gas treatment will gain in significance. Another key focus is on the extension of gas technology beyond the current stationary areas of application to include mobile applications. A third area is the hybridization of the powertrain in order to reduce fuel consumption and to enable an electrical propulsion system to provide low power operations or to generate electrical energy for other applications. Improving services and economy by analyzing operational data is a fourth key focus of our research and development activities. The customer will notice the improvement in terms of greater availability, lower maintenance costs and lower operational costs.

What is behind MTU’s green and high-tech program?
As part of our green and high-tech program, we are developing technologies that will help us to reduce the level of health threatening emissions even further; to establish gas as an alternative fuel in the mobile applications, in order to reduce the emissions of gases that are harmful to the climate and to cut fuel costs; to provide better mobile propulsion systems in terms of energy efficiency and additional customer benefits; to identify upcoming maintenance work and potential operational disruptions and to keep them to a minimum in terms of their impact on our customers operations.

In this comprehensive technology development project, our aim is to improve our engine technology and to develop modular propulsion systems ranging from the gas supply system to the electrical propulsion system. With the full range of technologies we will have available in the next 20 years, we expect to reduce the emissions of gases that are harmful to the climate by as much as 50 percent and to cut health-damaging emissions by over 90 percent.

Will ships still be powered by internal combustion engines in 2020? 
Yes, definitely. Other types of drive system are not yet capable of delivering the power that [vessels] need. Electric drive systems running on fuel-cells or accumulators would theoretically also be possible, but both have limited power density and range, particularly on account of their energy storage systems. But there will undoubtedly be an increasing level of electrification around all aspects of the IC engine. And we will make engines smarter so that our customers will be able to run them more economically and in a way that suits the specific application better.

So what are "smart engines"?
Ultimately, it is about three things: our clients want to run their engines economically, they want the engines not to break down and they want to be able to maintain them as cost-effectively as possible. Up to now we have always serviced all engines of a particular class at a fixed rate according to a set maintenance schedule. In future, engines will be able to tell us when highly stressed components, consumables and filters need replacing. We are developing remote data analysis methods for that purpose. We use data loggers to record operating data from the Engine Control Unit and send it to our analytics systems via the mobile phone network or LAN. The engine data is then analyzed so as to provide the customer and ourselves with information about the engine and the application. Servicing is no longer carried out after a fixed number of operating hours, but exactly when it is necessary according to specific utilization. What is more, the maintenance of our engines is becoming more predictable and so causes less disruption to the operator's processes.

What will the marine propulsion system of the future look like?
The marine propulsion system of the future, depending on the type of vessel, mission profile and the cost and availability of fuel, will incorporate a diesel or gas engine as the prime energy converter. The powertrain will be electrified to a greater extent, as this will enable us to reduce fuel consumption in most of the real-life operational profiles and to provide electrical power for other on-board applications. There will of course also be ships operating solely on electric power for applications with short mission periods. Big data will not be confined to future marine propulsion systems, but we will also see improved maintenance, early detection of malfunctions and the appropriate response, and autonomous operation.

In which areas will natural gas be the dominant fuel?
Wherever the cost of fuel is a major factor. For continuous-duty power generation, gas engines have virtually displaced diesels. And, of course, we are testing gas engines for marine applications. But even locomotives, large pump engines and mining vehicles could be operated much more economically with gas. One challenge is the fuel supply, i.e. storage in tanks and delivery to the engine. But we will find ways around that. Apart from lower fuel costs, lower CO2 emissions and more economical emissions control for future emission stages are increasingly important aspects.


(Photo: MTU)

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