The Irish Composites Centre in UL is part of the FIBRESHIP EU initiative to manufacture the ships of the future, working to overcome the technical challenges of constructing the entire hull of large-length ships in fibre-reinforced polymer materials

Engineers from the University of Limerick (UL) are set to play an important role in a new European research project that seeks to revolutionise the shipbuilding sector, by replacing steel with composite materials for the construction of more efficient large-length ships.

FIBRESHIP is an ambitious project that will allow for the construction of light commercial vessels, passenger and leisure transport and oceanographic vessels more than 50 metres in length using fibre-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite materials. It is one of the largest innovation projects funded by the EU with a budget of €11 million, of which €9 million is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme.

FIBRESHIP international consortium

The project involves 18 international entities representing the European shipping and shipbuilding industry from 11 countries including Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Romania and Spain. The consortium comprises:

  • Three world leading classification and certification organisations – Bureau Veritas, Lloyd’s Register and and RINA;
  • Four medium-sized European shipyards – iXblue, Navship, Soermar and Tuco;
  • Three renowned research centres chosen for their experience and experimental capacity—the International Centre for Numerical Methods in Engineering (CIMNE) in Spain, the Irish Composites Centre (IComp) at the University of Limerick (UL) and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
  • Four relevant ship owners—ANEK, Danaos, FOINIKAS and IEO.
  • Four companies specialising in shipbuilding architecture and engineering, in advanced solutions and in the development of computer-aided engineering software for naval architecture and business consultancy – ATEKNEA, COMPASS IS, TSI and TWI.

Dr Anthony Comer (lead principal investigator) and Dr Ioannis Manolakis (co-Investigator and project manager) from the School of Engineering and the Irish Composites Centre (IComp) at UL are the experts in the composites element on this project.

The project aims to drive the development and adoption of composites in the European shipbuilding industry. It will create the knowledge and tools for the construction of large composite merchant ships, over 50 metres in length, both seagoing and for inland waterways, thus overcoming the challenges and technology gaps that are currently found in conventional shipbuilding.

At present, most of the pleasure boats and sailboats, ferries, patrol boats and rescue ships of less than 50 metres in length are already manufactured with FRP materials instead of the classic steel, but until now the use of such materials for vessels over 50 metres in length was limited to secondary structures and components.

Among the potential benefits of using composite materials are:

  • A reduction of up to 30 per cent in the weight of ships;
  • A decrease in fuel consumption of between 10 per cent and 15 per cent;
  • An increase in recycling ratio from the current 34 per cent for steel structures to 75 per cent;
  • A substantial reduction of greenhouse gases;
  • Less noise pollution; and
  • An increase in cargo capacity by roughly 12 per cent.

Maximising benefits of composite materials

Further improvements are expected in the overall stability of a composite large-length ship and the associated safety aspects, as well as in reduced maintenance and life cycle costs by approximately 30 per cent compared to the steel counterparts.

This is primarily due to the fact that composites are – in contrast to metals – immune to corrosion and can be surface-tailored to withstand different aggressive environments, including seawater. As a result of this, associated improvements in terms of aesthetics are also anticipated.

The University of Limerick has progressively developed into a composites innovation hub. IComp has been instrumental in this transition, with numerous successful research projects in composites science and technology from both domestic and international funding sources.

The research on composites currently performed in UL spans across the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale, and ranges from low-TRL fundamental research to close-to-market and commercially oriented high-TRL activities. The presence of the overarching Bernal Institute and the recruitment of a Bernal chair in composite materials and structures (Prof Paul Weaver) make UL a world-class centre in composites science and technology.

Most of the UL-based composites expertise has been obtained in an aeronautical environment. Therefore, the successful technology transfer and expansion to new sectors of interest and activity for composites, such as the marine area and shipbuilding in particular, is of paramount interest for IComp, the Bernal Institute and UL. The FIBRESHIP project is a prime example of this technology transfer process.

According to Dr Anthony Comer, lecturer at the School of Engineering in UL, “In value terms, Europe’s leadership position in the world shipbuilding industry is based on its commitment to research, technology innovation and the delivery of high value-added products. In fact, Europe continues to classify the largest proportion of all newly constructed civilian and merchant ships in the world. FIBRESHIP stands out as the first initiative to comprehensively introduce FRP in the construction of larger vessels.”

“The Irish ocean economy is foreseen to benefit directly from the innovations expected from FIBRESHIP in the direction of the realisation of a lightweight composite large-length ship, with expected impacts on ship fuel economy, cargo and passenger capacity and environmental footprint,” said Dr Ioannis Manolakis, research fellow in composite materials and IComp research co-ordinator. “The positive impact on other established (e.g. marine manufacturing-engineering-construction) and emerging (e.g. marine renewable energy) industries is also expected to be significant further down the line.”

Dr Terry McGrail, IComp director, noted: “This is a significant success for IComp and UL, and a great opportunity to transfer composites expertise and know-how developed at high technology readiness level in UL and IComp in particular to new sectors such as shipbuilding.”

H2020 Programme

The European Union concentrates an important part of its research and development activities in its Framework Programme for the 2014-2020 period, known as Horizon 2020 (H2020). With a total budget of €80,000 million, the programme addresses pressing social challenges, promotes industrial leadership in Europe, and reinforces the excellence of its science base.

Horizon 2020 supports research and innovation projects with a wide range of technology readiness levels, from the generation of knowledge to activities that are closer to the market: basic research, technology development, demonstration projects, pilot manufacturing lines, social innovation, technology transfer, concept tests, standardisation, support for pre-commercial public-sector purchases, venture capital, and guarantee systems. O'RiordanMechmarine,mechanical,UL
Engineers from the University of Limerick (UL) are set to play an important role in a new European research project that seeks to revolutionise the shipbuilding sector, by replacing steel with composite materials for the construction of more efficient large-length ships. FIBRESHIP is an ambitious project that will allow for...