Environmentally-friendly propulsion

The reduction of the continent’s CO2 footprint is a common goal that the majority of European countries have agreed on and are actively pursuing. As a sign of its commitment – following the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference and the ensuing Paris Agreement – the UK government formed the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) to explore the possibilities of cutting CO2 emissions in the transport sector.

Being Europe’s largest manufacturer of propellers and stern gear, Teignbridge Propellers discovered an opportunity to demonstrate its long-standing experience in the marine market. In 2016, the company applied for a tender to the ETI to develop such an innovation that would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of UK vessels by eight per cent.

Unlike other forms of transport, it is difficult to replace fossil fuels in marine vessels with low-carbon alternatives, which drove Teignbridge Propellers to look for ways to increase fuel efficiency, instead.

Its proposition approved, the company secured a £3m investment from the ETI and, in 2018 it successfully completed a project that saw the business design a propeller, which saves at least 3.9 per cent of fuel usage.

“We formed a specialist team of a PhD propeller designer, a chartered mechanical engineer, a naval architect, and a couple of other support staff, and, backed by the funding from the ETI, we were able to purchase the best software packages and computers in the market to get the research phase going,” begins Mark Phare, Sales & Marketing Director of Teignbridge Propellers. “To further support the project, we also designed and built our own floating laboratory, the HRV1, paying out of our own pocket for it. The catamaran is based in Torbay and allows us to test a number of propellers of up to 1.2m in one day.”

As a result of the partnership with the ETI, Teignbridge Propellers launched a design for a fixed-pitch propeller that delivers the aforementioned 3.9 per cent saving. What is more, the company also came up with its ‘Clamp on Blade’ (CoB) concept, which enables vessels to carry spare blades and, if required, trim by the head to make the propeller accessible and replace the blades using a barge and crane, rather than having to use a dry dock.

“The CO2-saving element here is the elimination of the need to deviate to a suitable dry dock,” Mark explains. “In normal circumstances, if a merchant ship suffers some damage, it will probably have to deviate a few hundred miles to the nearest port that has a dry dock available, whereas with the new system that we have developed, it only needs to go to a port that can provide a crane and a barge to get the propeller changed.”

Manufactured in aluminium bronze and modular in design, the propeller has already been UK-patented, with worldwide patent pending. Due to its wide range of applications, the CoB has attracted the attention of a great number of customers, thus becoming Teignbridge Propellers’ most popular product at present. The propeller can be used on merchant, commercial, military, and leisure vessels, and particular interest has been expressed from owners with fleets operating in regions where impact damage has occurred due to debris in the rivers and sea areas.

While Mark notes that market requirements in terms of a propeller’s functions vary from sector to sector, the push towards fuel savings and a potential hybridisation is universal across different segments. “The ability of vessels to operate both on engine and electric power is also related to the idea of them having to become quieter, especially when entering or leaving a port,” he discusses. “Another trend is that people are now increasingly looking for the technical expertise provided by computational fluid dynamics (CFD) methods to predict a vessel’s performance. This is where the investment we have made in the Siemens STAR-CCM+ software for the ETI project comes in handy, because we can now analyse not just the flow of water around the propeller, but also around the entire vessel, which allows us to predict its performance much more accurately.”

From an industry point of view, the dip in the number of enquiries coming from oil and gas has been replaced by an uptake in the patrol work market. Mark comments: “There have been a lot of issues globally regarding border security, which has led to this huge increase in demand for quality high-speed patrol vessels. Other sectors where we have been expanding our presence are the ferry market, wind power stations, and the leisure industry. A lot of ferry operators are currently benefitting from the low fuel prices and are using their savings to invest in new vessels. As regards wind power plants, it is an area that continues to grow steadily, owing to the continuous demand for crew transfer vessels (CTVs) and pilot boats.”

Teignbridge Propellers exports the vast majority of its production (around 80 per cent) and is, therefore, widely represented the world over. Perhaps because of the geographical proximity, Northern Europe is the company’s strongest market, but it also continues to win contracts in the west coast of South America, as well as in South Africa, Dubai, and Malaysia. In recent years, Teignbridge Propellers’ propulsion systems have also gained traction in the Far East, including China and India. As a result, the manufacturer opened a factory in India three years ago, which is currently producing propellers and stern gear for the organisation’s satellite office in Dubai.

“It has been a successful first couple of years for us. Our concept was based on the idea to transfer some of the manufacturing to India while still providing the designs and technical support from the UK. It has not been easy to compete with the low-cost manufacturers in the country, but we believe that now that we are well-established, the natural progression for us is to seek growth in sales from the India factory within the domestic market, and this will be one of our main goals for 2020,” Mark reveals.

Together with developing internationally, Teignbridge Propellers also aspires to continue reaping the fruits of the project it did with the ETI. The work the company has done, has opened up the possibility of it manufacturing propellers of up to five metres, which will enable its entry into a completely new market field in the like of the merchant fleet sector.

Mark goes on: “There is also another innovation that we have come up with during the implementation of the project, which is related to measuring propeller shaft torques and thrusts, and we are working with City, University of London to help introduce this product into the market.

“As has been the case in the last few years, we will also continue to reinvest into the company by acquiring the latest CNC machines that guarantee the highest levels of accuracy. Lately, we have expanded our premises, too, and we are presently building a new office at the front of our building, which means that our current offices will be vacated and turned into additional production space, and this will increase our efficiency further,” he adds.

Mark then concludes by sharing Teignbridge Propellers’ long-term vision: “Propulsion systems will remain our core business, but there are several initiatives that we are eyeing, which may get us to develop products that will complement the shift towards hybrid and electric drives. In addition, we are partnering with a company that is building a vessel, which will be 100 per cent solar-powered. Fuel economy, energy saving, and alternative methods of propulsion are set to dominate operators’ considerations in the years to come, and, consequently, we, too, see these as part of our future.”

Teignbridge Propellers
Europe’s largest manufacturer of propellers and stern gear
Recently designed a propeller to reduce fuel consumption by at least 3.9 per cent
Patented a new modular replaceable blade propeller for maximum hydrodynamic efficiency