Research to examine possibility of powering Great Lakes ships with natural gas

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Great Lakes ships may be getting natural gas makeovers.

Great Lakes ships are mostly steam-powered; researchers are examining the possibility of switching many to natural gas. Photo: cseeman (Flickr)

Researchers with the Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute will soon study converting steam-powered ships to natural gas, using either compressed or liquid natural gas as primary fuel sources.

The team is also working with the Lake Michigan Carferry Service to determine the possibility of converting the controversial S.S. Badger to natural gas. From mid-May through mid-October, the S.S. Badger travels between Manitowoc, Wisc., and Ludington, Mich., every day. The monster vessel is the only coal-fired steamship operating in the U.S. and has come under fire from environmentalists because, as Echo reported, it emits nearly four tons of toxic coal ash into Lake Michigan with every trip and has been under an Environmental Protection Agency order since 2008 to fix its pollution problem by 2012.

The Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute is a joint program between the University of Wisconsin-Superior and the University of Minnesota-Duluth with ten other affiliate universities in the region. The natural gas studies are part of a five-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration to examine environmental issues related to Great Lakes shipping.

The studies will go beyond the environmental and analyze the engineering and financial considerations in undertaking these large conversion projects.

Over the past decade, gas-powered ferry research has proliferated in Europe. As part of this agreement Great Lakes researchers will exchange information and ideas with a European research team.

One thought on “Research to examine possibility of powering Great Lakes ships with natural gas

  1. What is the primary fuel now–diesel fuel? Ships may have steam engines, but water doesn’t turn into steam on its own.

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