Alfa Laval expands fuel and treatment R&D centre

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

10 March 2017

Opened three years ago for the purpose of research into exhaust gas treatment and as a training centre, the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre in Aalborg, Denmark has just undergone a major expansion making it the world’s most advanced test centre for environmental and combustion technology – regardless of fuel type.

Since its inauguration in 2014, the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre has been a hub of Alfa Laval research and development in exhaust gas cleaning, ballast water treatment, steam production, fuel cleaning and other key areas. Its original 250 m3 testing space is essentially a full-size machine room on land, equipped with Alfa Laval products that are installed and integrated into major process lines around a 2 MW marine engine.

Now a further 1100 m3 have been added to focus on combustion technologies for gas and other fuel alternatives. Among the new equipment are burner systems, inert gas systems and also the Alfa Laval Gas Combustion Unit (GCU), which is installed at the centre in full scale.

“Our investment in the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre reflects the extraordinary changes we see in the marine industry,” says Peter Leifland, President of Alfa Laval’s Marine Division. “Tightening emissions legislation is driving many customers from residual fuels towards LNG and other alternatives. As a comprehensive marine supplier, we must be at the cutting edge in supporting our customers, no matter what fuel they choose.”

Alfa Laval already has a substantial portfolio of solutions for gas as fuel and gas as cargo that includes Alfa Laval Aalborg dual-fuel boiler systems, the Alfa Laval FCM One Gas booster system, Alfa Laval Smit inert gas systems and the Alfa Laval GCU, as well as a complete range of heat exchangers for working gas at different pressures. Yet even more will be required in the very near future.

“Within 15 years, it is expected that thousands of vessels will be sailing with LNG as fuel, compared to the hundreds using gas today,” says Lars Skytte Jorgensen, Vice President, Alfa Laval Product Centre Boilers. “We can clearly see emission regulations driving the trend. But the success of the transition will depend in large part on advanced technology, much of which has yet to be developed.”

In the newly expanded Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre, that development is already underway. Alfa Laval is currently testing a new dual-fuel burner for gas-diesel applications on smaller boilers, which will later be developed into a multi-fuel solution in partnership with the Danish Technical University in Copenhagen. Elsewhere in the centre, a development project is running for large burners and boilers, involving comprehensive tests with both gas and diesel flames. The GCU, as well, will be subjected to test flame and heat flow characteristics in different conditions and this way identify possibilities for improving performance even further.

The GCU itself provides some idea of scale when it comes to Alfa Laval’s investment in the centre’s gas expansion. Designed to deal with LNG boil-off gas in a safe, reliable and environmentally responsible manner, the GCU measures 23 m from bottom to top and can burn up to 4.5 tonnes of LNG per hour – the rough equivalent of 60 MW. To enable indoor work with the unit, extensive preparations were necessary.

“The GCU fans move 458 cubic metres of air per hour at full load, so automatic systems connect its control with the large doors of the facility, which must be open during operation,” says Lars Skytte Jorgensen.

The costs of investing in the centre, however, are far outweighed by the benefits according to Peter Leifland. “After just three years of operation, we can point to many areas where the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre has accelerated our R&D and improved its quality,” he says. “Exhaust gas cleaning, where our Alfa Laval PureSOx platform is fully ready for the 2020 global sulphur cap, is just one example.”

This could prove a lucrative investment for the company not least because a recent study suggested that around 20% of shipowners would be looking to install scrubbing technology to meet the 2020 deadline.

Both in meeting new regulations and in paving the way for gas, the centre’s technological edge will be vital in bringing customers the most environmental and energy-efficient solutions. “The rate of change in marine legislation is increasing, and ship owners and operators are forced to keep in step,” Leifland concludes. “With the expanded capabilities of the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre, we will ensure that onboard technologies are ready to meet their technical challenges – whether the fuel is diesel, gas or something else altogether.”