The offshore lifting industry is accompanying its land-based counterpart in a similar direction: that of taller, heavier and more complex loads. Jack Spaan, manager of projects at Jumbo Shipping shared his thoughts on it with Euan Youdale
Such is the pace of development, water depths of 3,000 metres no longer raise an eyebrow for sub-surface lifting, and land-based high-rise structures can be matched in height by offshore wind turbines.
In response, the offshore heavy lift and transport industry is equipping its vessels for heavier loads and greater lifting heights and depths. Netherlands-based Jumbo has commissioned a K-Class vessel to meet these requirements. Complementing the four lower capacity J-Class crane vessels, the K-class offers two 1,100 tonne capacity revolving cranes. Jumbo has an option for a second unit.
"We believe there will be a very strong requirement for heavy lift shipping, including large units like refinery towers, locomotives, transformers and anything that needs shipping from one place to another," comments Spaan. "That will continue despite the current crisis. At the moment no-one is building new refineries but they will come: there will be replacement and new investments."
With its range of J-Class vessels Jumbo is taking the middle ground between lower and high capacity lifting capabilities. "When it comes to the installation of templates in deep water, there's the standard Cargotec MacGregor cranes, with 250 tonnes capacity single fall and 400 double fall, with 3,000 metres of wire. Whenever the unit size goes over a certain value, like 250 tonnes, those vessels no longer become an option for very deep water, and you will need to turn to the likes of Heerema or Saipem that have huge vessels, which are immensely capital intensive," comments Spaan, "Our vessels go a little further: we can install heavier templates in deep water compared to platform, supply or light construction vessels."
"In practical terms we can go to 3,000 m of water and install. The J-Class Jumbo Fairplayer has a deep water winch system with which you pick up the unit from the deck with the crane and install it directly at 3,000 m, and you still have 400 tonne installation capacity."
These depth requirements are likely to increase, says Spaan. "Exploration used to take place close to the shore and whenever you spoke of deep water it would be 300 or 600 m. We now have deep water that is beyond 1,000 m, and ultra deep water which is 3,000 m deep."
Spaan continues, "If you look at the Gulf of Mexico, South America and Africa, those water depths will be reached and, if you drill in those water depths, you will need to have infrastructure there for the exploration, so that is the sort of area we are looking at."
The company has announced a new agent in Brazil, Tecnoil Comercio e Representacoes, to aim its sights at very deep water with lifting capacity requirements of 250 to 400 tonnes.
In future staged installations will be required because it will not be technically feasible to lower complete units in one go. As these jobs become more complicated backup will become more challenging and expensive, says Spaan.
"Over recent years, we have seen a rapid correction to the cost of energy so, all of a sudden, people realise it is worthwhile putting investment into energy resources that are more difficult to reach. You then need more capital to get it out of the ground; that goes for all stages: exploration, drilling, infrastructure and fabrication of the units."
With the realisation that fossil fuel is finite and increasingly expensive to realise, wind energy is becoming a greater focus. "There is a step change in the scale of deployment; you used to see small-scale wind farms more like pilot projects. Now a different type of client has emerged. The smaller scale developments were financed by electricity companies or small development companies. Now you see energy majors concerning themselves with renewable energy. They bring a lot of capital but also bring the professionalism required for these very large scale projects."
An example of large-scale is the 500 MW Greater Gabbard wind farm off the UK's south-east coast. Jumbo worked for Fluor to install 40 transition pieces (the section on a wind turbine between the foundation and the tower).
Although Jumbo does not erect wind turbine towers, it does offer installation of foundations. The former requires jack-up barges, "We can do the shipment and supply of turbines, plates or towers with the DP [dynamic positioning] vessel to jack-ups, "In the future you will have motion compensated units that can install these turbines at very great heights but, at the moment, if you want to reach to 100 metres you are best off with a jack-up arrangement," says Spaan.
Logistics is also a major issue in the offshore wind energy market. Jumbo's experience in this area will play a major role, Spaan says. It can also be provided as a stand-alone service. "Typically, you see that in renewables everything is done by day rates, and the risks are unknown, so the clients end up bearing all the risks. With oil and gas, a mature industry, you share risks among the parties, so you have a far greater incentive to prepare for bad weather, high currents or difficult types of lifts because of the gains you get out of not being punished. It is beneficial to cap those risks or share them with contractors involved in those construction activities. We are already used to those arrangements from oil and gas so we are willing to adhere to those specifications if requested by the clients."
Spaan fears there is also a lack of knowledge and expertise in the offshore renewable energy sector which needs to be rectified. He describes a recent Germany-based conference with presentations only held in the native language, which, he says, demonstrates a lack of knowledge-sharing across borders and the industry. "The biggest achievement [at the conference] was an evacuation plan - this should be standard. I also think governmental and trade organisations need to be more active in obtaining experience from outside the industry. On the other hand, the oil and gas industry should not be complacent in sharing its knowledge with renewables - the principles are the same."
Two years ago Jumbo equipped its Fairplayer vessel with a deep water skid-based winch system capable of taking 14 km of wire. With increased depths, however, the argument for synthetic fibre rope becomes stronger. While there is already a mature market for synthetic straps and slings, there is still some way to go before it is used regularly as hoisting rope on cranes.
"The synthetic slings are still punished by requirements from governmental and industry standards like DNV. We are trying to convince those regulators that a lower safety factor is not going to enormously increase the risk. For cranes it is already used in the industry but not very widely because of unease with it, because of infrastructure being developed for steel wire and due to the cost - it is still more expensive than steel. But I think within 10 years it could be the choice in the industry," Spaan explains.
Whatever material is used to lift offshore components, technology will be forced to adapt to the increased challenges in oil and gas exploration and renewable installation. "There are a lot of scenarios for years to come. They estimate that we have anything between 40 and 100 years of oil and gas left," Spaan continues, "When offshore oil and gas [exploration] began in the North Sea, the rate of recovery was 10 to 15%. Now it is 30 to 50%, so oil is still there. Processing gas out of harder rock and clay layers is developing quite rapidly - in the USA this is land-based but, if you export to offshore, there could be a whole new industry developing here. Gas-to-liquids is a known technique, although expensive at the moment. So I am very optimistic with respect to the energy market and the offshore part of that."
In its capacity as an offshore construction equipment manufacturer Huisman has delivered a number of high capacity cranes to the market over the last 12 months.
According to the manufacturer, the main areas of application and growth for its cranes are in offshore oil and gas in increasingly deeper waters, offshore wind energy, which is still in its infancy, but is growing quickly, and heavy lift cargo, again, with increasing capacities.
For deep-sea applications there are requirements for higher lifting capacities and the capability to lift in ultra-deep waters, says the company. "Huisman equipment is increasingly equipped with active heave compensation systems and large-sized traction winches and large storage capacities - currently 400 tonnes of wire rope can be stored. In addition, we are developing lifting systems which use fibre ropes instead of steel wire ropes," a spokesman says.
For growing wind energy markets and capacities, Huisman is increasingly developing dedicated equipment, an example being a crane that is installed around the leg of a jack-up. In both of these applications, and others, Huisman says there is a growing need for cranes that can operate in sub-zero arctic conditions.
One of the biggest challenges across these applications is the Chinese market, admits Huisman, and its output of relevant equipment. At the same time China presents opportunities for Huisman with its undeveloped offshore market. Brazil's huge ultra-deep market is another area to be explored. "Globally, offshore wind is becoming more and more important especially after the nuclear power incident in Japan," says Huisman.
Huisman deliveries in the last 12 months:
5,000 tonne mast crane for the Seven Borealis
850 tonne mast Crane for the Caballo Mayo
Two 750 tonne mast cranes for the Nora
600 tonne pedestal-mounted crane for the MPI Resolution
600 tonne pedestal-mounted offshore crane for work barge PLB-648
250 tonne knuckle boom crane for the Seven Pacific
150 tonne knuckle boom crane for the Cade Candies