Sustainable Energy

How a design tweak could transform one crucial area of shipping 

Key Points
  • Chemical tankers are a crucial cog of the global shipping industry.
  • One business has developed what it describes as "revolutionary tank technology." 
How a design tweak could transform one crucial area of shipping

Chemical tankers are a crucial cog of the global shipping industry, transporting a range of liquid products around the world in bulk.

In the Netherlands, ship designer and contractor Koole Engineering has developed what it describes as "revolutionary tank technology" that can help chemical tankers make savings in several ways.

Koole Engineering's lightweight, vertical and cylindrical tanks are decoupled and are independent from the vessel they travel on.

On a conventional ship, the wall, bottom and roof of a tank is part of the ship, Dries van Gorkum, a naval architect at Koole Engineering, explained to CNBC via email. This means that a ship's hull is "rigidly connected" to the walls of a tank.

"Koole Engineering tanks are independent, cylindrical tanks," van Gorkum added in a TV interview with CNBC's "Sustainable Energy". 

"The cylindrical shape is a sturdy shape for storing liquids, which means we need to use less duplex steel for the same strength as you have within, let's say, a conventional cubic tank," he added.

In addition to using less duplex steel, Koole Engineering says its tanks cuts heating and cooling costs by 80 percent and speeds up a tanker's unloading, washing and reloading cycle by as much as 40 percent.

Via email, van Gorkum also added that, on a conventional tanker, any bending of the ship would also result in a bending of its tanks. "This means additional strain is placed on the tank construction, which can be detrimental for the integrity of the tank, resulting in cracks and leakage of dangerous chemicals."

Looking at the bigger picture, the relationship between tank design, innovation and wastage is an intriguing one, especially when it comes to oil.

"The transport of oil, in particular, depends on being able to put it in tanks and then move it around, usually in ships but often in tankers on the road and even static tankers, bunkers and places like that," John Miles, a professor at the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering, told CNBC.

"Moving from tank to tank is an important part of the life of oil and, of course, each time you move from tank to tank if you have to clean the tanks out you lose a little bit of oil," Miles added.

"If it's a difficult job, you lose quite a lot of money … So the design of the tank is pretty important in terms of how efficient the overall process is." Miles explained that anything that reduced losses during transport and transfer was important to the price of oil at the pump.