Clean-up operation

Paul Boughton

Robert Gastaldi explains how an innovative method for cleaning up after oil spills is proving increasingly popular

More than 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water. It is one of earth’s most precious natural resources. With globalisation placing increasing demands on maritime shipping, when accidents occur, the consequences to the environment can be catastrophic. Tankers leaking oil, vessels dumping their refuse inadvertently without regard for aquatic life or coastal residents; the negative environmental impact is real.

As experienced during disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spills in Alaska in 1989 or the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, clean-up efforts are monumental tasks and their success depends on how fast authorities can intervene and whether they have the appropriate equipment to do the job.

From France’s Brittany, Eric Vial and Robert Gastaldi, co-founders of Ecoceane, decided to boost the efficiency of vessels that are used to collect the liquid and solid waste floating in the water. They realised that despite significant means and efforts employed to recover hydrocarbons after an oil spill, very few hydrocarbons were recovered at sea before reaching the coastlines and causing irreparable damage. They invested more than €10 million and seven years in research and development to create an innovative concept designed to tilt the odds in favour of clean-up operations. Their technology equips clean-up vessels that can collect more oil and waste per hour and with a capacity 10 times that of traditional vessels.

“Our customers are government agencies, harbour managers, ship-owners and shipyards and their needs vary,” says Eric Vial, president of Ecoceane. “We therefore design and build waste-cleaning boats for different situations: from harbour, lake and river clean-up and coastal protection to out-of-port operations to recover all floating waste and oil spill monitoring and recovery in high seas. Our boats are capable of collecting hydrocarbons at sea up to a wind and sea force of 6 or 7 on Beaufort scale and at speeds of 4 to 5 knots.”

The company’s founders invented an innovative way to separate water from hydrocarbons that prevents emulsion. “We avoid a mayonnaise-like emulsion when collecting hydrocarbons that would otherwise require a specific process to separate the hydrocarbons from the water before they can be stored in tankers. We gain in efficiency this way.”

Its vessels transfer only pure emulsion-free hydrocarbons into tankers as they work. Once a tanker is full, another can take its place. “This continuous exchange of storage means our vessels have an unlimited 24/7 recovery capacity during a clean-up operation,” Vial explains.

Ecoceane provides its customers with end-to-end design to production services. “We tailor the design of each vessel to a customer’s specifications and then have the boat built at one of the shipyards we work with around the world, a solution that satisfies customers’ need for proximity,” Vial says.

Power of integration

To develop its vessels, Ecoceane uses Dassault Systèmes’ 3DExperience platform, with CATIA for design, Simulia for virtual product simulation, Delmia for digital manufacturing and 3DVia for communication with shipyards and customers.

“For structural steel shipbuilding design, CATIA has built-in job-related features such as sheet metal and structural steel design, that save us a lot of time,” says Benjamin Lerondeau, Ecoceane’s naval architect.

The link between CATIA and Simulia enables Ecoceane architects to seamlessly use the 3D digital mock-up created in CATIA to run simulations of the boat performing under working conditions as it sucks up water and pollutants into the vessel. “We virtually simulate the vessel collecting water and hydrocarbons and visualise the flow of these liquids through the different compartments of the boat where filters separate the hydrocarbons from the water,” Lerondeau says. “The hydrocarbons are then eventually transferred to a tanker and the water released into the sea. We want to avoid releasing the pollutants into the sea instead of the water. With Simulia we can see if the vessel functions properly before it is built. The virtual simulations are so realistic and precise that we could eliminate physical prototypes.”

Engineers use Simulia for stress analyses and the results are used to adjust the 3D design in CATIA if needed. “Working on the same platform means there are no gaps and no interruption in the development chain,” Lerondeau continues. “When the simulation and analysis phase is complete, we then transfer the 3D model to a virtual production environment in Delmia to digitally prepare all manufacturing operations, including the sheet metal cutting plans and assembly procedures. We then use 3DVia to create assembly instructions in 3D for the shop floor.”

With its latest line of pollution-cleaning vessels – ReverseGlop – Ecoceane proposes a way for shipyards to incorporate its technology in the stern of any boat under construction that is more than 25m long. Its technique preserves the vessel’s normal functions in the aft and transforms it into an oil spill response vessel when the boat shifts into reverse.

Robert Gastaldi is co-founder of Ecoceane.