ABB Turbocharging Brings Breath of Fresh Air

Oliver Riemenschneider

As shipping continues to face the challenges of tightening regulation and market conditions, ABB Turbocharging says marine equipment must be able to adapt to unpredictable circumstances as never before.

Oliver Riemenschneider, ABB Turbocharging Group Senior Vice President, CEO and Manager, Global Business Unit Turbocharging, is in the vanguard of the technology group’s drive to engage its shipowner clientele in a new and more searching dialogue.

In heading a global turbocharger supplier to larger and smaller owners alike, and a technology partner of the world’s leading marine engine developers, Riemenschneider exhibits pragmatism on issues of profitability that are common to all.

The refreshing realism lies in a conviction that, while it must be responsive to immediate technical needs, ABB Turbocharging must also adapt to underlying market and regulatory trends on its customers’ behalf. Slow steaming, for example, has been “a severe technical challenge, but it is a symptom of the market rather than a driver,” he says. “For us, the longer-lasting challenge comes from the flexibility customers are increasingly demanding of our technology.”

ABB turbocharger
ABB turbocharger outfitted on a Wärtsilä medium speed diesel

Again, many see the introduction of new restrictions on NOx emissions from January 2016 as a turning point for shipping. While acknowledging the milestone, Riemenschneider believes owners will scramble to have keels laid in advance of the rules coming into force, blurring the effect of their true impact into 2017-18, and even into 2019.

Clearly, as a developer of high-tech solutions, the company has invested heavily in aligning its products with the new generation marine engines now entering service that will meet emissions and performance expectations in the years ahead. Exemplary is ABB Turbocharging’s new A200-L® turbocharger for low-speed 2-stroke engines, which features an improved design of compressor wheel.
A200-L attains up to 30% greater volume flow, higher pressure ratios and increased overall efficiency than its direct predecessor in a considerably smaller package, generating more power, fuel efficiency gains and significant emissions reductions.

Again, newer four stroke engines demand higher turbocharging pressure ratios for the very strong Miller Cycles required to realize high NOx reduction percentages. Higher pressure parameters have driven the development of Power2® two-stage turbocharging by ABB. ABB has also responded directly to the greater need for part-load operations, through the development of Valve Control Management (VCM®) – a technology that will also be central for application to marine engines running on gas. VCM is an electro-hydraulic, cam-supported variable valve train system that allows engine gas exchange to be optimized over a full range of operating conditions, hence allowing the effect of the Miller Cycle to be varied.

A future in gas

While noting that the availability of LNG bunkering infrastructure remains a key determinant of the attractiveness of the fuel type, as a technology company, ABB Turbocharging is thus not afforded the luxury of hesitation. Accordingly, the company is cooperating closely with all main high and medium speed engine makers to optimise performance when running on gas, for example, specifically around refining air and exhaust gas flows for gas engines.

“Our task has been to support stable operations regardless of the temperature or humidity; knocking has been an issue and we have played a part in addressing that,” says Riemenschneider. “The key issue is valve timing and control.”

VCM, he says, will also be critical in addressing ‘methane slip’ – the term most likely to bring those enthusing over the seamless conversion to gas technology to a shuddering halt.

“LNG as a fuel has to be ready to operate like diesel, and so the solution we are developing also has to offer an opportunity to increase efficiency,” says Riemenschneider. “Often, the emissions story is one that focuses only on how to meet coming regulations, but we view VCM and the R&D spending around it as a way of achieving an efficiency gain that can go straight to the pocket of the ship operator; we do not see it as being driven by regulation, but as something that is driven by economics.”

Riemenschneider says full scale testing of ABB’s VCM solution are already underway with a leading gas engine maker, with the expectation that it will be ready for serial production by 2019 at the latest.

Long term position
These are technical responses to real market challenges, but Riemenschneider emphasises the fact that the sophisticated equipment needs to work in the real world as well as the laboratory. Unprompted, he raises the topic of “bad fuel”.

“We are a service company too, a company whose reputation is built on its equipment performing in the field. We have to be prepared to consider the hard deposits that increase turbine wear as an operating challenge, where the turbocharger can often be doing a cleaning job.”

In an uncertain market constrained by tightening regulation, ABB seeks a dialogue of partnership with its customers, rather than one where a technology group simply looks for payback on R&D, says Riemenschneider. The company believes this dialogue will lead to the product, service and equipment management packages that owners will recognise as having been developed to meet real rather than imagined needs.

For example, ABB Turbocharging has found a ready audience for its Managed Maintenance Agreement offering, targeting end users looking for a proactive approach to full-service support and full transparency. “The MMA optimizes customer’s maintenance management and reduces his workload,” says Riemenschneider. “Fast and easy access to maintenance, repair and overhaul at any ABB Service Station assists in lowering operating costs by keeping installed turbochargers at their peak performance. The MMA encompasses detailed service recommendations around six months before a planned service is due.”

Over 300 customers are now signed up to MMAs covering 15,000 turbochargers, which give end user the benefits of early ordering while allowing ABB Turbocharging to support the management of their equipment.

Flexible approach

In line with the realistic engagement sought by ABB, Riemenschneider also raises the uncertainty of the impact of the forthcoming restrictions on sulphur and nitrogen emissions that become effective in Emissions Control Areas from January 2015 and 2016 respectively. While these rules are bringing owners to crunch time on fuel choices and after treatment solutions, he points out that the operational areas affected are limited. “It remains open as to whether owners will convert all of their ships to a particular solution, or only those operating in the zones affected; these are decisions that involve a trade-off between investments and future operating flexibility.”

Owners opting to stick solely, or partly, with HFO, will face their own challenges in the years ahead, he notes. Technologies such as exhaust gas recovery and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) are proven to work, but Riemenschneider adds that they are not proven for every vessel type and some technical issues remain unresolved. “In the case of scrubbers, this is more about management, because there is an increase in back pressure but it is not a fundamental issue. For SCR systems, there is a more critical issue, because these systems tend to absorb energy as engine loads pick up and they need to be operated in a certain exhaust gas temperature range; there is a balance to be struck between engine concept and temperature control. In this case, the remedy lies in engine control and turbocharger specification.”

All of these factors, and others besides, mean that the bulk of owners are seeking first and foremost to keep their options open. “Operating flexibility is the number one requirement for vessel owners today,” says Riemenschneider.

“As a supplier of turbochargers for new and older marine engines, installed in a full range of vessel types, we expect greater availability of purpose-designed products, covering different dynamic conditions, different fuels, different lifetimes and serviceability requirements. We expect this to be the case in low, medium and high speed ranges.”