Andrew Baird

Andrew Baird

Experienced geologist and seabed mining entrepreneur, Andrew reviews cutting edge technology from around the world across a wide spectrum of industries, and considers their potential applications in the work boat world.

COLUMN | What becomes of the uncharted? [The Bow Wave]

The oil price has crept up slightly and OSVs are starting to be placed in charters that are measured in years rather than months. But for the most part these contracts are going to newbuilds, which leaves quite a number of older craft at anchor. What options does an owner have to bring these boats in from the pasture put them to work?

COLUMN | Home on the range [The Bow Wave]

I was having a discussion the other day and the topic of farmed fish came up. It seemed that people liked the lower prices that farming has brought to the consumers of smoked salmon but were a little concerned that perhaps the quality wasn’t as high as wild caught salmon and that the perceived environmental impacts of the pens in close proximity to shore were still quite high.

COLUMN: Ready to Rock Steady [The Bow Wave]

The other day I was watching some videos on YouTube and an interesting clip appeared in my “recommended viewing” queue.

I’m not entirely sure what videos I’d watched previously that made the boffins at Google think that this video would interest me but I’m glad their algorithms exist as this was a video from around 2014 and was an animation of a stabilised helipad for installation on large offshore support vessels.

The video had been uploaded by motion-compensation specialist Barge Master (available here and appears to be a collaboration between helideck manufacturer Bayards of the Netherlands and Barge Master. Having seen the impressive installations of stabilized walk-to-work (W2W) systems developed by Ampelmann in the pages of this magazine over recent years I was immediately interested in the stabilised helipad concept and started to wonder why we have not seen one actually being built.

A quick hunt online found a number of patents that have been lodged that detail stabilised helipads however none specify offshore use. One was for mounting on the back of a truck in terrain where no flat landing areas were available and another was for on top of skyscrapers that sway in the wind.

Motion compensated helipad

Certifying such a helipad for offshore use would probably be the greatest challenge as not only will the platform have to meet stringent ship design standards, but also the increasingly challenging standards of the generally conservative aviation safety agencies.

Given the horrific time that the North Sea helicopter fleet has had in recent years with multiple helicopter crashes it seems unlikely that any new development will be allowed without an onerous and exhaustive testing phase that very few companies could afford to complete given the limited market size.

It would seem that the idea hasn’t been picked up because of timing. The oil price crash slashed the use of helicopters offshore with the W2W-equipped vessels quickly taking up the slack. Should oil prices rebound I think it will be hard for even the most free-spending of exploration departments to get permission to return to the red-tape laden use of helicopters. There are still active groups of oil workers in the UK and Norway who refuse to travel on EC225 model helicopters after the spate of crashes, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Whilst the W2W system undoubtedly takes longer per voyage, the fact is you can transport 100+ crew at a time, in worse weather conditions than a helicopter. Direct costs of operating a number of helicopters versus the single vessel end up being comparable however the W2W vessel doesn’t require that all who travel upon her complete an expensive, and intensive, helicopter evacuation and survival training course.


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COLUMN: Full Power [The Bow Wave]

A few years ago NASA decided to take another look at one of their projects from the “Golden Age” of space, a compact nuclear reactor for use on extended space missions where batteries and solar panels wouldn’t be viable.

Going by the updated acronym of KRUSTY, for Kilopower Reactor Using Stirling Technology, the researchers have built a 1kW test unit loaded with a small amount of Uranium-235. The system is designed to be entirely passive until turned on, and doesn’t contain enough radioactive material to go critical and go into a meltdown.

The Stirling engine, which is the component that actually generates the electricity, operates on a temperature differential ie. the heat generated by the nuclear reactor is greater than that of the surrounding environment. The greater the temperature difference, the greater the power produced. The engine was invented back in the early 1800s and has proven the best method of converting heat energy to electrical energy in small, space and weight-constrained applications like spacecraft.

Kilopower experiment

The experiment is ongoing through the northern Spring using a reactor core that has been described as the size of a paper towel roll. Assuming the project gets the go-ahead to progress to a 10kW unit the size will grow to about two metres in height with a large sunshade-style heat radiator. The full size unit is expected to produce the full 10kW of electricity for more than 10 years and would be deployed singly for space probes or in groups of four or more to power camps on the Moon or Mars.

So, why is this project of interest to the maritime community? For starters underwater research labs could certainly make use of the power, as could unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) and remote monitoring stations.

This would not be the first time that civilian oceanographic researchers have had access to nuclear power. The NR-1 submarine launched in 1969 and operated numerous oceanographic and geological research voyages. The 45-metre-long vessel is the smallest nuclear submarine yet built and remained in US government service until 2008.

Whilst 10kW might now seem like an enormous amount of electrical power, a UUV that spends its time drifting with the subsurface currents would find it more than sufficient for minor course corrections and the occasional journey to the surface and back for data-dumps via satellite. In a subsea oceanographic lab the heat generated might prove to be more valuable than the electricity, allowing for research labs in cooler waters that might not have been viable otherwise.

UUVs could also operate on a “trickle charge” method where a bank of batteries, say a few hundred kilowatt hours, is charged by the generator and once full uses the battery power to transit from point A to point B whereupon it settles onto the seafloor or deploys an anchor and monitors the local area using a small fraction of the generator output as the rest of the electricity goes to recharging the batteries. A fleet of these UUVs could easily form the backbone of a wide area submarine monitoring network.

Because of the small size of the unit decommissioning can be done at a central, specialised facility which would reduce costs. The uranium could be reprocessed with a fair amount of it being reused in new reactor cores and the other radioactive products produced being disposed of responsibly

Production wise, Uranium-235 isn’t particularly rare or overly expensive and if a standard reactor were designed these things could be mass-produced to bring the cost down drastically. It’s not unreasonable to think these KRUSTY generators could become a plug-and-play power source much like a AA battery.

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