Smart lifeboat technology and the safety case for all-electric propulsion

Battery power and a clean environmental conscience go hand in hand, but the performance, availability and lower maintenance costs of E GES free-fall lifeboats are making a new and powerful safety case for all-electric propulsion.

Part of a rig upgrade for the Equinor platform Njord A operating in Norwegian North Sea initiated in 2017, three new 70-person VIKING Norsafe free-fall lifeboats have been an eye-opener for those seeking to extend the life of assets. The advanced boats are launched from a unique davit system that fits within the same space and weighs less than an obsolete predecessor that could launch only two. The solution also meets the most recent risk-based DNV GL-ST E406 and Norsok R-002 performance standards.

“We were given a boundary box with just 19m of deck width and weight limits of 89 tons, based on platform stability,” says Joe Dawes, Senior Sales Manager for lifeboats and davits.

"Kilo for kilo handled, we have delivered the lowest weight davit station ever made."

Joe Dawes - Senior Sales Manager, Boats & Davits

After VIKING Safety Academy undertook a ‘world record’ 30% overload test for a free-fall lifeboat from a height of 66.8m, installation on Njord A was completed in Spring 2020.

In the diesel incarnation envisaged at the project’s outset, the ‘GES 52’ boat is already what Erik Mostert, R&D Manager, describes as a “marvelous innovation”, developed with Equinor to raise the bar on safety. By August 2018, Equinor had decided that Njord A’s new boats would also take the opportunity to shift to all-electric propulsion.

“What became the VIKING Norsafe E-GES 52 wasn’t something that could be decided overnight,” Mostert explains. “It needed a Client Technology Qualification, supported by DNV GL, and a full investigation of the viability of 100% electrical power as a replacement, including 36 months to achieve SOLAS Novel Design Resolution A.520(13).”

Marinized technology

The resulting solution for each boat comprises of three 25kWh batteries - contained in robust, waterproof cases with their own fire monitoring extinguishing systems - providing power for an electric motor complete with its own gearbox and ventilation system. Given the duties E-GES 52 boats undertake, Mostert places particular emphasis on the safety case for the battery technology selected.

"This is marinized battery technology that uses individual cells, in individually sealed and cooled metal cases operating inside a controlled environment: we have at least a triple barrier against any thermal incident. Other maritime stakeholders can draw safety lessons from the approach."

Erik Mostert - R&D Manager, Boats & Davits

Smart and digital lifeboats

The E-GES is equivalent in many aspects of operational performance to its diesel counterpart but, while many will focus on the ‘green’ dividends of electric propulsion, Georgios Nikoltsis, Manager Technical Department, VIKING emphasizes several areas of superiority.

“Significant long-term cost savings are achieved through reduced maintenance, and remote monitoring capabilities are also incredibly valuable for offshore operators,” he says. “The smart monitoring capability needed for reporting purposes are integrated in electric systems ‘as standard’, while they do not need anything like as much routine maintenance as conventional engines in the first place.

Speaking about smart, digital technology, each of the boats on Njord A has its own email address: its self-diagnostics PLC system alerts shore-based maintenance teams of trend deviations on temperatures, charge or other variables, so that any anomalies can be corrected remotely, or as part of a routine or exceptional visit.

Condition-based monitoring

“Across the industry, there is also a move to reduce manning on platforms and, today, some are non-permanently manned,” adds Dawes. “That means you may not actually be able to fulfil SOLAS requirements to start the engines periodically as a safety precaution: with the E-GES you can perform all of the checks remotely from land to assure the availability of the boat.”

Equinor has already predicted massive maintenance cost savings, suggesting that an all-electric lifeboat could expect to consume less than 5% of the physical maintenance hours needed for a diesel boat over a five-year period. While this estimate is based on projected, rather than actual figures, Dawes says cost savings could follow if all-electric freefall lifeboats were inspected every 30 months, compared to annual inspections needed by diesel boats.

Faster to safety

There are other benefits, which have a more direct impact of safety. “From the safety perspective, the launch phase of an evacuation can be executed at a higher sprint speed, so that evacuees can be moved more quickly away from the platform in an emergency,” says Dawes. “Other advantages include better onboard comfort due to the absence of the exhaust fumes, heat, noise and vibration.”

Where offshore asset performance and safety is concerned, it is often observed that where Norway leads others eventually follow. It can be no coincidence that, after knowledgesharing involving DNV GL and Equinor, in mid-2020 the E-GES concept was qualified by an Australian operator for use in higher temperatures.

“We’re definitely looking to the export market now, especially after the initial feedback from Njord A,” says Dawes. “Like everything else, Covid-19 has had a massive impact on projects but, when the restart comes, we can pick up on conversations that ranged from project-specific applications to the potential for universal adoption.”

First mover and innovator in all-electric survival and rescue craft

According to R&D Manager Erik Mostert, the VIKING Norsafe E-GES is far from the only electrically powered evacuation solution put to market by VIKING these years.

“Electric propulsion is no longer a technology for the future – it is here now – and here to stay! For VIKING, the journey with electric propulsion and smart, digitalized technology in evacuation solutions and survival craft started a decade ago with the award winning LifeCraft alternative survival craft and evacuation system that is bound to revolutionize evacuation off cruise ships and ferries.”

“The next lines of all-electric evacuation solutions following in the footsteps of the VIKING Norsafe E-GES are racking up at the time of writing. For instance, electric powered conventional lifeboats (E-JYN) are included in planning for new projects and fast, high performance electrified craft (E-FRC) are considered for the defence and professional industry.”

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