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New European Shipping Project Doesn’t Need Steel

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Technology is surging on a wave of green. More countries are adapting to solar power, a number of cities are debating getting rid of plastic bags, and many companies have been making moves to go paperless as printing costs have become the third largest office expense behind payroll and rent.

Yet this move for change is only setting sail. A new project conducted by the European Union is looking to create large, lengthy, and more efficient cargo ships.

Without steel.

In the construction industry, the most commonly used metals include carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and copper. The EU, with the Irish at the heart of the engineering process, is looking to change that by utilizing materials made of fibre reinforced polymer composites.

According to Hellenic Shipping News, this is one of the largest projects to ever be funded by the EU, whose budget has grown to 11 million Euros, or more than $12 million.

The project, known as FIBRESHIP, aims to create a series of shipping vessels both for commercial and passenger use. The vessels will measure over 50 meters (164 feet) in length. The goal is to introduce these fibre polymer composites into Europe’s shipbuilding industry as a permanent addition to materials such as steel and aluminum.

FIBRESHIP offers various environmental benefits aside from the weight of the ships, which would be reduced up to 30% with the new use of composite material. The project will also reduce noise pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, and increase cargo capacity by approximately 12%. The project is also said to reduce fuel consumption up to 15% and increase the ability to recycle materials. The European shipbuilding industry is currently able to recycle 34% of its steel, but with the use of composite materials that percentage may increase to 75%.

However, while composite materials may result in lighter shipping vessels, the construction of the vessels still poses safety concerns for workers. In 2013 alone, there were up to 917,100 occupational injuries in the United States, and shipbuilding is a notoriously dangerous occupation even with five home health insurance options available for workers.

Construction and steel work are two of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the United States, and workers compensation is mandatory in 49 states. However, European workers compensation programs are not only far more generous, they are the model for occupational social services around the world.

That makes the EU an ideal location to launch a radical new shipbuilding project, and there may be economic benefits for those countries engineering it.

“The Irish ocean economy is foreseen to benefit directly from the innovations expected from FIBRESHIP,” said Dr. Ioannis Manolakis to The Journal, “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.” Dr. Manolakis and Dr. Anthony Comer of the University of Limerick are considered the experts on the project’s composite elements.

While Ireland may be at the forefront of the project, other countries representing the European shipbuilding industry are coming together on the project as well. These countries include Spain, Greece, Italy, Romania, Denmark, Finland, Cyprus, France, Hungary, and Great Britain.

Yet the Irish remain ecstatic to be on the front lines of this great feat of engineering. Terry McGrail, the Director of the Irish Composites Centre (ICOMP) Director, said to Hellenic Shipping News, “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.”

Adding to McGrail’s discussion on opportunity, Julio García-Espinosa added in his open data repository of the FIBRESHIP project, “The achievement of all these milestones will lead to an important advance in the state of the art of how FRP materials are used in shipbuilding. But, more important, it will bring Europe’s shipbuilding and shipping industry a step forward from its current technological level…”

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