Breakthrough for FRP composites to replace steel hatches on ships

SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden helps gain approval for cargo ship to replace steel hatches with fiber-reinforced composites, reducing weight and eliminating corrosion.

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SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden (SP, Borås, Sweden) has announced that combustible, fiber-reinforced, lightweight composites have been approved for the first time for use in a SOLAS ship. Panama's flag authority has accepted a design where  fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) hatches will replace steel hatches. SP research and fire risk analyses have helped make this possible.

Lightweight composites have a number of advantages vs. steel. Ships can be made lighter, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions, and there is no corrosion. SP has pursued a range of projects since 2004 to develop methods and produce information to enable approval of combustible, lightweight FRP composites on ships.

According to Tommy Hertzberg, fire researcher at SP, up to now it has been difficult to obtain approval as all regulations are based on steel. SP's experts have been involved in numerous Swedish and international projects which have had the aim of gaining approval using new materials, but prior to this no flag state had fully accepted the lightweight solution. Panama's flag authority has now accepted a conversion using composite, which is a major step forward.

“We have contributed our know-how to the Norwegian group and DNV-GL [the Høvik, Norway-based global ship and offshore classification society], which in conjunction with the Japanese shipyard Oshima, has produced a clever, lightweight design that resolves many of the problems with steel hatches,” says Hertzberg.

The ship, a cargo vessel measuring 225 m by 32 m, is owned by the Danish shipping company Nordic Bulk Carriers AS and has now been approved for conversion.

“We have been responsible for the fire analysis in accordance with SOLAS Regulation 17, which is used to show how to achieve fire safety equivalent to steel, to make the approval possible," says Hertzberg. "I would describe this as a breakthrough."

SP Fire Research also participates very actively with the International Maritime Organization (IMO, London, UK), which is producing fire risk management guidelines for using composites on SOLAS ships. The results will be presented at the next IMO Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction (SDC) conference (Feb. 16-20, 2015)  in London.

For further information, contact Tommy Hertzberg at +46 (0)70-584 50 46 or tommy.hertzberg@sp.se .