Noaa’s green ship initiative


Thanks to the innovations put in place by NOAA marine superintendent, Dennis Donahue, and the “Green Ships Initiative,” all three of NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory large diesel research vessels operate fully on bio-based, vegetable products. The R/V Huron Explorer, R/V Shenehon and R/V Laurentian, all use 100 percent soy biodiesel for engine fuel, canola-based motor oil and vegetable-based hydraulic oil for its deck crane, winches, transmission, and steering gear. Not only is this a cost effective way to help reduce environmental emissions, but it also has improved both ship performance and crew health and safety. The ships are the first in the U.S. fleet to operate on 100 percent bio-based products and GLERL has already received two national level awards for this environmental effort. (Click NOAA image for larger view of GLERL’s three green ships, the R/V Huron Explorer, R/V Shenehon and R/V Laurentian. Please credit “NOAA.”)

GLERL’s Ship Operations Group, in Muskegon, Mich., created a “Green Ship Initiative” in 1999 to explore innovative ways to reduce the environmental impact of its ships and boats on the nation’s greatest freshwater resource — the Great Lakes. Over the past seven years, the initiative has grown from a series of pilot projects to full implementation — and is spreading quickly to other NOAA (i.e., National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service) and non-NOAA offices. (Click NOAA image for larger view of NOAA green ship features. Click here for high resolution version. Please credit “NOAA.”)

At the center of the “Green Ship Initiative” is the exclusive use of B100 (100 percent soy biodiesel), in preference to B20 (a 20 percent blend of soy oil with petroleum diesel) that has been in use for a number of years in road vehicles. B100 operational benefits include lower emissions, higher lubricity, cleaner injectors, and costs savings while also improving the safety and work environment of the ship’s crew and scientists. The fact that B100 contains no sulfur allows for the use of catalyst exhaust after treatments that further reduce emissions, particularly NOx which is a green house gas.

Building on the successful use of B100 biodiesel, the ships mechanical systems were also converted to bio-products. The biodegradable vegetable oils used in the crankcase, gearbox and hydraulics offer an additional level of environmental protection in the event of a spill or accidental leak.

Concurrent with the introduction of bio-based materials, all shipboard systems were reviewed for potential environmental impact. New safeguards were engineered to eliminate overboard discharge and better manage material use and containment. It is the complete package that carries the strongest message supporting NOAA’s environmental stewardship, the feasibility/acceptability of the bio-products, and a positive public image regarding federal alternative fuel leadership. It is a landmark effort and yet another example of how NOAA is on the cutting edge of science, service and stewardship.

Below, Donahue, who heads up both the Green Ship Initiative and the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory’s Ship Operations Group, shares his thoughts on his work in this area. Read More…