The Arctic region is as rich in resources as it is harsh and remote. The safe and ecological extraction of these resources is becoming a prominent commercial and geo-political issue. But many components need to be put in place before that becomes a reality, including the use of Dynamic Positioning (DP), which is vital in Arctic conditions due to the impracticality and cost of mooring. Through the Dynamic Positioning in Ice (DYPIC) project, Kongsberg, Statoil, Hamburg Ship Model Basin (HSVA) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) are taking important steps on the way to bringing the first ice-optimised DP system to market.
With an estimated 22 percent of the world's undiscovered, technically recoverable resources lying within the Arctic Circle, the industry is looking north. DYPIC project lead at Statoil, Arne Gürtner, says developing the technology necessary for complex offshore exploration is part of Statoil's overall strategy.
"The Arctic is a very high-potential region, particularly for hydrocarbon resources. As a technology-focused upstream company, our aim is to encourage the development of technology required to conduct exploration in the region," says Gürtner.
"The development of an ice-optimised DP system is essential. Operating safely and efficiently in Arctic conditions requires vessels to have accurate station-keeping abilities. If we can successfully deliver a stable DP technology for ice it will allow us to access the resource-rich areas for longer periods during a year," he says.
"If you are serious about creating an innovative solution to a complex problem, a collaborative effort is vital"
Arne Gürtner, Project Lead, Statoil
While DP is widely used for exploration operations in open waters, it needs to be heavily modified for Arctic conditions. This is done by identifying and mitigating additional risk factors and although this is an arduous process, Gürtner says DP is a critical element.
Statoil's long-term objective is the commercial availability of a DP system, but the complex nature of the technology requires it to be developed in stages. The DYPIC project mainly focuses on getting a fully-automatic DP system working in a test environment.
Initially, physical model tests are being used to determine the necessary input parameters for a full-scale DP system. Data from test results is used to improve the DP system and provides millions of parameters for the development of numerical modelling, done by NTNU. The modelling supplements physical testing, and in turn helps to further enhance the technology. According to Kongsberg project lead, Torbjørn Hals, the project has been highly successful so far.
Collaborating for better outcomes:
This project is a particularly good example of how a collaborative approach can create highly innovative solutions to difficult problems. Though each party had their own goals for the project, those goals largely overlapped, leading to mutually beneficial outcomes. Here's an overview of the partner roles and what the project lead said about the benefits of a collaborative approach:
"We are about halfway through the project, with extensive testing having already been conducted in the HSVA model basin. Analysis from the results has helped us to improve the DP system in the test vessel. Data has also been funnelled back into preliminary numerical modelling," he says.
When ice isn't ice
The famous urban legend claims that Eskimos have hundreds of words for snow. Those involved in the DYPIC project must be tempted to create a few of their own for ice, in order to describe the many variations in ice conditions that have unique and drastic effects on vessels and their DP systems.
Varying degrees of ice thickness, flows, density, ice accumulation on ships and sudden increases and decreases of pressure are just some of the many factors that affect the station keeping ability of vessels. The DYPIC project focuses mainly on broken and managed ice. This is due to thick ice posing too difficult a problem and the fact that DP operations will be supported by physical ice management (i.e. ice breakers).
Add a list of other variables including the unique characteristics of each vessel and the need to ensure safe redundancy levels, and you start to see why, according to Gürtner, the project requires the expertise of several partners to achieve a successful outcome.
"The DYPIC project is very complex and would not have been a realistic undertaking without incorporating the expertise of the partners involved. Statoil has a tradition of technology development in cooperation with other industry leaders. If you are serious about creating an innovative solution to a complex problem, a collaborative effort is vital," explains Gürtner.
Though the harsh environment is the main challenge, there are others. For project lead at HSVA, Peter Jochmann, the difficulty is in trying to create a real-life simulation while also understanding how the limitations of the test environment affect results.
"We have never done DP in such a harsh environment," he says. "Though we try to make the test environment as realistic as possible, there are many factors that we can't simulate like the extreme temperatures and darkness. The challenge then is to factor those considerations into the data so that the DP technology can handle those conditions."
Hals explains that for Kongsberg, the main challenge is to ensure that the data and numerical modelling are used to refine the technology to the greatest extent possible.
Gürtner agrees: "The real challenge is making sure all the learning and algorithms from the tests are utilised to ensure a highly practical outcome."
DYPIC – Dynamic Positioning in Ice
- Timeline – August 2010 to December 2012
- Part of the EU's ERA-NET Maritime Technologies project
- Consortium includes HSVA, Kongsberg, Statoil, NTNU, DNV and Sirehna
- Funded by government bodies in Germany, Norway and France as well as Statoil
- Aims: to advance model testing facilities for DP in ice and to use the results of that testing to produce numerical modelling and further develop an ice-optimised DP system
- Status: Halfway through with strong progress. Some testing and data analysis completed, leading to further development of ice-optimised DP technology.