The NSR future: nuclear-powered container carriers and their digital twins
Arctic shipping seems to become unique: nuclear-powered container carriers planned for the Northern Sea Route are to be equipped with reactor units like those of the most advanced icebreakers and to feature passenger accommodation possibility while the entire shipping system in the region is to be digitalized through creation of its ‘digital twin’. Russia is the only country with required experience and capability for creation and operation of a nuclear-powered civil fleet.
Organization of a line shipping on the Northern Sea Route is not a trivial task for many reasons. The first one is severe climate and ice conditions. The second one is remoteness from core infrastructure and sparse population of the Arctic coast. The third one is the need to comply with tough environmental requirements as the eco-system of the Far North is highly vulnerable.
In this respect, Russia is looking into construction of a series of ice-class container carriers powered by nuclear fuel. This solution will ensure environmentally friendly shipping not depending on the bunkering infrastructure.
As a preparation for this project, a team of scientists from a variety of institutions and organizations have conducted a study in the Arctic onboard the Sevmorput, nuclear-powered icebreaking combo LASH carrier / container ship. The expedition was organized by RUSATOM CARGO LLC (transport subsidiary of Rosatom).
When speaking at the expert session “Digital Ship for NSTC” held at the Peter the Great Saint-Petersburg Polytechnic University and dedicated to the expedition results, Stanislav Chui, Director for the Development of the Northern Sea Transport Corridor, the expedition leader, said that NSTC concept is similar to that of the southern route. According to him, it foresees the delivery of cargoes by feeder lines to a transport and logistics hub in Asia from where Russian Arctic fleet will deliver it to a similar western hub. The key advantages of the project are time, predictability and comfortable digital environment.
“The major tasks for today are to build a fleet, develop a cargo base and digital services, create external telecommunication infrastructure, digitalization of logistics”, said Stanislav Chui.
As he told about the expedition, it defined technological frontiers and conditions for a transition to a digital ship basing on integration of software packages, collection of data and shifting to scenario forecasts.
“We assume that the ship design can be non-compliant with RS requirements but we see it as a necessary step towards the development of technologies. A data base has been built for creation of the NSTC digital twin. Assumptions have been made on West-East cargo base modelling with special research to be conducted on this though”, said the speaker.
A promising combination of nuclear power and digitalization
By today, technical assignment has been prepared for the development of an Arctic container carrier concept as well as for the development of digital services concept. The next step is involvement of cyber platforms.
"By today, technical assignment has been prepared for the development of an Arctic container carrier concept"
Actually, construction of Arctic class cargo ships running on nuclear fuel is not a trivial task. According to Dmitry Sakharov, Deputy Chief Designer, Central Design Bureau “Iceberg” PJSC, the design should comply with contradictory requirements.
“We have been engaged in the NSTC project for over a year working on a ship that should meet numerous requirements that conflict each other. Operation model of a nuclear-powered cargo ship of Arctic class is considerably different from an operation model of a nuclear-powered icebreaker. Our ship should not only break through ice with thickness of up to one meter and a half but it should also feature high maneuverability and seaworthiness, particularly in stormy weather. With its ice-reinforced hull, the ship should be quite light and maneuverable in relatively shallow waters of the eastern Arctic seas. Meanwhile it should meet the highest environmental standards”, explained the specialist.
With respect of various requirements, the RITM-400 reactor of 60 MW has been defined as an optimal solution for such ships (it is used on the new LK-60 icebreakers).
There is also a variety of propulsion systems under development including electric propulsion/steering units, operation of which will entail high repair expenses though.
"The RITM-400 reactor of 60 MW has been defined as an optimal solution for such ships"
The final decision will be made after completion of the digital model for operation of NSTC which is being developed by Saint-Petersburg Polytechnic University, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and Moscow State University.
Developments are underway for container carriers of 3,000 TEUs, 5,000 TEUs and 10,000 TEUs. Each type is intended for specific transportation functions.
Among the challenges is the balance between the draft of ships featuring heavy hulls and carrying much cargo and the low depth of Eastern Arctic seas and mouths of northern rivers. For example, maximum draft of a 3,000TEU ship is 12 meters while the hull should meet at least Arc-7 requirements.
Accommodation of passengers is foreseen to decrease operational expenses: the design of a 3,000TEU ship foresees cabins of different class on several decks. As for digitalization, specifications have already been submitted to equipment designer, Inteltech PJSC.
According to Aleksey Borovkov, SPbPU Vice-Rector for Advanced Projects, head of SPbPU NTI Center, NSTC project is very likely to be involved in the cutting-edge developments in the field of digital modelling.
“Its vision can be described by few words – cargo delivery from Yokohama to Rotterdam two weeks faster. To solve this task we apply new solutions from different fields. We have about 30 advanced technologies that are to be considered through a weight coefficient. There is no ready solution since numerous factors are to be taken into account in the framework of this project”.
He says business community is not ready to adopt some new concepts while thinking the way of 20 years ago or preferring to maintain a status quo.
Besides, digital services require an alternative satellite-link communication, says Nikolay Shabalin, Executive Director of Marine Research Center at Lomonosov Moscow State University.
“Key challenges of the Arctic are harsh hydrometeorological conditions, high environmental risks, absence of a unified information collection centre for analyses and forecasts while the diverse data is difficult to integrate and analyze. Among the crucial problems is the absence of a small-scale and local charting for challenging parts of the route. Digital services are needed for safe, efficient and environmentally friendly delivery of cargo. Development of such services is in the process and we are involved. Our service allows for an on-line monitoring of ice situation, modelling of ice motion, compression and tension, monitoring of oil pollution, obtaining of hydrometeorological forecasts by satellite links and from open data base as well as for tracking of ship movements and correlation of this data with the route”, said the expert.
According to him, it is important for ships to have an open platform for accepting outside data, collecting and checking them for an improved forecast model as well as control of pollution in marine ecosystems. This technology is being used by Gazprom Neft’s digital system “Kapitan (Captain)”. It should be noted that a good satellite fleet, primarily a radar one, is needed to ensure operation of the system. As of today, radio positioning is ensured by foreign satellites with forecasts and analyses based on open data.
“If the access is limited by European countries, US or Canada, our digital services and models will stop functioning”, said Nikolai Shabalin.
“If the access is limited by European countries, US or Canada, our digital services and models will stop functioning”
Double effect of digital twins
It should be noted that digitalization of the Arctic logistics is also in the focus of the Far East Development Fund, Mikhail Kuznetsov, Director of FEDF Digital Technologies Department, said at the Arctic Forum Week held in Arkhangelsk on 20-23 October 2020.
“Our (information – Ed.) system should be qualitatively different from others and allow for actual use of georeferenciation ... It allows for modelling of each vessel, actually the economy of each voyage based on the passport of each vessel, its operation records, speed, all basic parameters… We also take an archive of all historical data on ice conditions and enter them into the system. Ice conditions affect the speed of the vessel, pilotage parameters, all this is taken into account in the system. Ports, main infrastructure facilities are also added to the system so that each route is as realistic as possible, taking into account the weather and climatic conditions, and forecasts. That ensures quite accurate calculation of the need for icebreaker assistance, for ships supporting the cargo base”, said the FEDF representative.
As a summary, we emphasize that Russia is the only country with nuclear-powered icebreakers, experience and capability to create and operate a nuclear-powered civil fleet. If it succeeds in creation of an environmentally sustainable and efficient Arctic fleet of civil ships and in providing the potential clients with a proper digital service and guarantees of safe cargo transportation within specified time, the Northern Sea Route is quite likely to become a fully functional and highly demanded transport corridor of global significance.
About the project
The Northern Sea Transit Corridor project was initiated by Rosatom in 2019. It is aimed at the development of a logistic service for cargo transportation between Europe and Asia by the Northern Sea Route. Under the project launched in August 2019, Rusatom Cargo LLC involved some 150 experts and over 50 scientific institutions, design organizations and companies including Saint-Petersburg Polytechnic University, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Moscow State University, RAS Institute for National Economic Forecasts, VEB, Far East Development Fund, Rosatom. The research has covered digital simulation, designing of Arctic class ships, development and production of shipboard power equipment involving nuclear-power, hydrogen and other alternative sources of energy, development of new engineering materials, instruments, radio electronics, telecommunication, and navigation. More than 20 working and strategic session have been held as well as 7 conferences with over 50 reports and reviews on digitalization of transport logistics. More than 25 conceptual designs of ships have been developed as well as 6 expert analyses have been held. A conceptual approach to digital simulation has been developed under the NSTC project. Expedition “Digital Ship for NSTC” has become a result of work conducted in 2019-2020.