Oil pollution, arising either from marine accidents or from ship operations, is one of the major problems that threaten the equilibrium of the marine environment. The severity of the situation, for open and confined seas alike, has never been evaluated to its fullest extent, due to the lack of comprehensive data. Only estimates can be given on the quantity of oil that finally ends up in the sea from all possible sources (ships, fixed-shore installations, etc.), although even these estimates (between 1.7 to 8.8 million tonnes per year) reveal the magnitude of the problem.
The issues of oil pollution and spill confrontation have attracted increasing research efforts over the past 25-30 years. The preservation of the marine environment is of extreme importance and therefore all possible dangers/problems that threaten it must be dealt with determination and efficiency. In the post-Prestige era, it is now time for a completely new and multidisciplinary concept for handling oil spillage in European waters to be developed. This will yield environmental benefits, an impulse to the respective industry and it will result in an exportable product for marine oil spill confrontation.
There is a need for a continuous renovation of the relative anti-pollution methodologies and equipment, always striving to minimise or eliminate the adverse effects an oil spill has on the environment. Such a goal must be incorporated in all hierarchical levels, at the same time taking all necessary legislative and surveillance measures to prevent the emergence of oil spills in the first place. However, it is a fact that as long as oil-carrying vessels sail the seas, tonnes of oil will eventually end up in the seawater.
Specifically, the project proposed the design and proof of concept of autonomous Elimination Units for Marine Oil Pollution (EUMOPs), capable of mitigating and eliminating the threat arising from oil spill incidents. The envisaged end-result of this project were the conceptual development and validation of low cost, possibly recyclable, autonomous vessels/drones that would be released in the oil spill area, would automatically (through proper sensors) track the oil concentration specifics of the spill and apply either mechanical or chemical countermeasures locally. Combining a large number of such units should confront the entire spill. A range of such units was envisaged to be designed to allow their use in various oil spill scenarios (large, high-seas spills are very different from small, coastal spills; a 'one size fits all' concept is inappropriate). The complete integrated system, including communication, logistical support, and response management should be analysed and assessed.
A strong, multidisciplinary and competitive consortium of world experts was established and interacted with an industrial Advisory Committee that was expected to provide expert guidance throughout the project duration.
The research objectives were to establish:
- Innovative concepts in oil spill management;
- Novel devices for oil spill confrontation;
- An integrated framework for oil spill management; and
- An advanced structure for the dissemination of oil pollution response policies.
Validation, proof of concept and virtual (simulation) experiments were included in the project.
The work focused on the design of the unit, the artificial intelligence platform, the oil-processing scheme, on cost-benefit analysis and on response logistics at both strategic and tactical levels. Thus the project formulated an advanced approach for spill management issues, including mobilisation, application tactics, strategic management, logistics, etc.
Emphasis was also given to the logistics and support chain of the EU-MOP concept and operation: the implemented logistics and the corresponding techniques were properly assessed in terms of efficiency, functional facilitation and continuous service enhancement.
Some of the technological challenges involved in the project were:
- energy source and propulsion
- sensors, electronics and artificial intelligence
- vessel design
- oil processing.
PROJECT - RESEARCH FIELDS
The research is multidisciplinary and encompasses areas of particular technological innovation. This adds an all-important basic research component to this effort, while at the same time there is a strong connection to the basic principles of a productive end-result. Below some of the technological challenges involved and possible routes that the research could propose to face them are briefly outlined:
- Energy source and propulsion. In an autonomous miniature sea-going unit, traditional technologies may often be non-applicable. In order to reach a fully autonomous state, various technologies should be considered, including sea wave energy production or acoustically driven momentum jets.
- Sensors, electronics and Artificial Intelligence. The units should navigate independently, by continuously monitoring the oil-saturated sea surface and by estimating concentration gradients, optimal routes etc. Techniques from sensor array technology and fuzzy logic can offer solutions to the host of technical issues involved;
- Vessel design. The EUMOP project is to present a parameterized range of the developed design concept in order to assure adequate performance and confrontation capabilities concerning the predefined oil spill scenarios;
- Robotics. The EUMOP concept involve certain issues and topics that are addressed with features of robotics; more specifically, an efficient solution lies with swarm tactics where the collective performance of many small units present a coordinated and dynamically evolving
During the EU-MOP project a new concept for oil spill response featuring autonomous unmanned robot vessels that operate as a swarm in order to efficiently collect the spilled oil was developed.
An EU-wide antipollution equipment inventory identified existing gaps in the anti-pollution arsenal, in order to target the recorded weaknesses. The marine oil pollution status was drawn from oil spill data sources, such as state maritime authorities, international organisations, EU-MOP partners, and others, in order to develop a state-of-the-art baseline regarding operational and strategic aspects of pollution confrontation and control.
In the architectural and technical design of the EU-MOP units, the Catamaran and Monocat concepts were studied. The Catamaran and Monocat concepts featured distinctive advantages. A small unit was also designed.
Because of the fact that these two designs were completely new and no literature data or computer results could be found to provide accurate results for the propulsion resistance, the consortium decided to perform experiments to estimate as accurately as possible the resistance for both designs. Tank tests were performed for both the catamaran and the monocat design. In addition, to estimate the increase in the propulsion resistance due to navigating through fresh and emulsified oil, computational fluid dynamics calculations were performed.
A simulation framework was developed to assess the preferred sensor configurations and control systems. In order to achieve better and more realistic results, an integrated approach was adopted, which simulated both the robots and the oil slick.
The EU-MOP swarm simulation was visualised, while several swarm strategies were developed, in the process of identifying the most efficient ones. In the validation of the swarm behaviour, the main objective was to demonstrate physically the swarm behaviour via studying mobile land-based robots to collect 'oil' which was projected onto the floor with the help of a video projector.
A methodology was developed to measure various skimmer configurations performance and the final selection was made. Three separate simulation modules were developed and integrated: the oil fate, robot, and visualisation programs.
A model was developed addressing the strategic planning of stockpiling EU-MOP units in candidate (port) facilities, so as to optimally respond to potential oil spill incidents in a nearby risk area.
Research on storage and transport requirements f