Machine learning can help cut ship emissions and save fuel

Written by Nick Blenkey
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DECEMBER 19, 2018 — By using modern technology like machine learning to create virtual fuel meters, the shipping sector can reduce both its emissions and its fuel consumption, according to Fredrik Ahlgren, a doctor of maritime science at Sweden’s Linnaeus University.

Modern ships collect large quantities of data from their engines and machines when operating, including engine speed, temperatures, and pressure.

During the work on his dissertation, Ahlgren got the idea to combine these data in order to use machine learning to create virtual fuel meters. These can then show the consumption in real-time without having to install physical fuel meters.

“The virtual fuel meters can help crews bring their ships forward in a more energy-efficient way, thereby also reducing emissions of hazardous substances like greenhouse gases and other pollutants,” explains Ahlgren.

The shipping sector is facing a major challenge to radically reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide, particles that are hazardous to the environment and to human health, and sulphur and nitrogen oxides.

“Today, emissions from the shipping sector make up roughly 11 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions from the transport sector. If we are to succeed in our work to reduce global climate change and reduce the effects of air pollution on human health, we must work with many methods at the same time,” says Ahlgren.


In addition to the implementation of new technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, the shipping sector can become more energy-efficient by making better use of the waste heat from ships’ engines. In his dissertation, Ahlgren has also made an extensive analysis of the energy system on board a cruise ship, resulting in knowledge about how waste heat in cooling water and exhaust fumes can be better utilized in existing and new equipment. In particular, Ahlgren studied how an intended installation of a so-called Organic Rankine Cycle can convert waste heat to electricity.

Ahlgren’s dissertation is already gaining industry attention.

“So far, on request, I have sent a couple of hundred copies of the dissertation to different office holders within the shipping sector in northern Europe,” he says. “This shows that machine learning and artificial intelligence are hot topics and important pieces of the puzzle to create a more sustainable shipping sector.”

Access the dissertation HERE


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