Greening the Fleet: How URI's Work on R/V Endeavor Can Help You

November 2012
The University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography.Essay written by: Joshua Haggarty and Dan Albani.
In 2010, as carbon emissions produced by human activities rose well over 3% in the U.S. to 5,638 million metric tons of CO2, the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) decided to explore ways to make their fleet's present and future more environmentally sustainable.

The Endeavor

The Endeavor - URI's Research Vessel

Greening The Endeavor

UNOLS began to promote the goal of "greening the fleet", which is still exploring the technologies and practices best-suited to move forward in developing and maintaining more efficient research vessels. The Graduate School of Oceanography at URI has taken this goal to heart, and research is currently underway to make their vessel, the R/V Endeavor, one of the most eco-friendly ships in the nation's academic fleet.

Though the economic and environmental benefits of upgrading the ship's equipment remain to be seen, the Endeavor's use of B5 biodiesel substantially lowers its harmful emissions. The fuel found in the ship's 3,000 horsepower engine and three diesel generators is now locally produced in Rhode Island by Newport Biodiesel; and due to surging gas prices, costs slightly less per gallon than regular diesel. The ship also uses 100% biofuel to power its hydraulic systems, which negates the impact that ship waste has on data collection, giving researchers more confidence in their work. The Greening of the Endeavor project has extended efforts aimed at creating an energy-efficient, sustainable campus at the GSO, and the University is actively soliciting private and corporate support to achieve project goals. However, the true intention of this essay is to inform the boating community on a few cost-efficient ways that they can green their operations.

Biodiesel emmisions

Figure 1: Percent change in harmful emissions as a function of percent biodiesel used

How Big Is My Vessel's Carbon Footprint and How Can I Minimize It? 

In order to quantify the Endeavor's carbon footprint, an energy efficiency formula, called the Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator, was used to relate fuel type, cargo mass and fuel consumption. With the EEOI formula and the Endeavor's bridge logs, an accurate estimation of the ship's carbon emissions were determined. This number, which we calculated on a per-voyage basis, then served as a baseline from which operational improvements could be measured. For recreational boaters, it is an acceptable estimation that one gallon of gasoline used is equivalent to 20 lbs. of CO2 emitted. Think back to your most recent weekend cruise and roughly calculate how much CO2 was released. It is startling to see how quickly CO2 emissions can add up, but there are simple ways to decrease this number.

The following are just a few basic ways to get you started increasing your overall boating efficiency on any cruise, hopefully leading to reduced costs and increased performance. First, limit the amount of weight you regularly carry onboard. Extra weight will force your vessel deeper into the water, increasing the frictional surface area, which slows you down and decreases your fuel efficiency. Second, the installation of an autopilot system can lead to on-course savings by keeping your heading on a straighter line to your destination. Third, regularly clean your hull, especially all control surfaces (i.e keels and rudders). A buildup of biological fouling will increase drag, thereby increasing fuel consumption. Finally, purchase a high efficiency propeller that suits your average operations, keeping in mind that certain propellers are made for certain situations.

The Basics of Biodiesel

The Department of Energy defines biodiesel as "a domestically produced, renewable fuel that can be manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled restaurant greases".  It can be used in diesel engines with only initial modifications to seals and filters, due to biodiesel's solvent effect on natural rubber and accumulated engine deposits. However, newer engines now use polymers instead of natural rubber and can be converted in a much easier manner. Depending on it's intended use, biodiesel can be used as a pure fuel, or can be blended with petroleum diesel in any percentage. The Endeavor's eventual goal of B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% diesel) will allow significant reductions in carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is an EPA program which ensures that transportation fuel sold in the United States contains a minimum amount of renewable fuel. However, early concerns regarding the storage and use of biodiesel led to very conservative regulations, and Renewable Identification Numbers (which allow each gallon of biofuel produced to be sold on the open market) currently do not apply to marine fuel. With U.S. commercial consumption of marine diesel currently estimated at 2.25 billion gallons per year, marine-use biodiesel could potentially be a large market in a national biodiesel industry. Companies like Newport Biodiesel form partnerships with local restaurants and produce clean-burning and sustainable fuel from waste vegetable oil. Newport Biodiesel's commitment to providing New England offers the people of New England a way to have a positive impact on both the environment and the local economy.

Take Action

You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

Take Action

As far as greening your operations, we've come up with a few cost-efficient ways to go green:

  • RPM optimization (increases fuel economy on longer trips)
  • Running lean (excess weight like water and unnecessary equipment can slow you down)
  • limiting drag 
  • Upgrade to CFL/LED lighting (up to 11x as long lasting as incandescent bulbs)
  • Onboard fuel computer (monitoring fuel consumption is an easy way to identify inefficiencies) 
  • Invest in alternative energy sources like solar panels, hydro-generators and wind turbines
  • Details regarding contributions to the Greening of the Endeavor fund can be found here.
  • Click here for more information on biodiesel.
  • Visit Newport Biodiesel for the company's mission to fuel a green New England.
  • Stay tuned for ways that we can change the EPA's Renewable Fuel Standard to include personal marine applications.
  • Learn more about the cutting-edge oceanographic research offered at the school here