Timeline: The World’s Only DP5 Vessel
Updated: Apr 13
Edit: Happy April Fools! Yes, we did mention it at the bottom of the post, but in case you were only reading the headline, this was indeed a joke post. Be safe out there!
It’s Fun Fact Friday and today we are taking a look at the world’s only DP5 dynamically positioned vessel: Timeline. Currently under construction as a collaboration between more than a dozen unnamed offshore energy and technology companies, Timeline is being built to serve large-scale offshore wind farms as the ultimate installation solution.
The most advanced Wind Turbine Installation Vessel in the world
Offshore wind farms are popping up all over the world, with the United States East Coast, South Korea, and much of the UK planning huge offshore installations to power millions of homes with clean energy. With the rising popularity of wind farms and rapidly accelerating technology, the biggest hurdle with building offshore wind farms is the ever increasing size of the turbines and lack of vessels to install them. Larger turbines are more efficient, with turbines like GE’s Haliade-X rated for 14MW, enough to power two UK homes from one revolution of its 220 meter rotor, according to GE. A height of 260 meters blades 107 meters long require a very large vessel equipped with the largest available offshore cranes to install them, as well as a host of support vessels. Larger vessels are being built to install these bigger turbines, but those vessels typically take 2-4 years to build, lagging behind turbine technology. This shortage in vessels has led to more than a dozen offshore companies, including energy giants, software companies, and a crane manufacturer, along with research scientists, to create the Stargate Consortium to build the ultimate future proof vessel.
“Image: The Hornsea Project Two offshore wind farm in North Sea. Photo: courtesy of ABB.” Image from NS Energy.
Only preliminary details have been released, but specifications show that Timeline will be built to install four wind turbines of up to 25MW at the same time. Studies have shown wind turbines should be spaced 6-10 rotor diameters apart front to back and 3-5 rotor diameters side to side, but more efficiency can be gained by greater spacing. Taking a 14MW turbine with a rotor diameter of 220 meters, and spacing those turbines 10 rotor diameters apart for increased efficiency requires a vessel platform to reach turbines 2200 meters apart, or approximately 1.37 miles! While wind farms will place turbines closer due to space constraints, it’s still not feasible to reach four turbines at once with a single vessel, which is why Timeline will use ship separation with four detachable 208m x 208m sections. These four “sub-vessels” dubbed T1-T4, will release from the center 240m x 212m section under their own power, navigating up to 2.5 nautical miles from the “mothership” section. T1, T2, T3, and T4 will each have enough deck space to install five 14MW turbines or an estimated three 25MW turbines, and can be resupplied directly by offshore support vessels if required. Installations will be performed by four Huisman cranes (one for each section) with a capacity of up to 5,000 metric tons.
Huisman 5,000t crane. Image from The Maritime Executive.
How will Timeline be powered?
Power for the main section will come from three Wärtsilä 46DF engines which are expected to run on LNG where available, for a big decrease in emissions. The vessel will also feature a hybrid system with battery storage between 20,000-25,000 kWh coming from multiple iron-air battery packs. The mothership is also expected to have foldable solar panels to provide auxiliary power. These new panels may even feature anti-solar technology to capture power at night, capturing power from the temperature difference on both sides of the panels. While it does provide power, anti-solar only provides about 25% of the daytime power during nighttime operation. Foldable storage means almost zero lost deck space and the ability to orient the panels as wind breaks during inclement weather. T1-T4 will be powered by two smaller Wärtsilä 34DF engines and 7,500 kWh iron-air batteries. “It’s important to everyone involved in this partnership that we reduce emissions to support our efforts to help bring the world to net zero. Timeline’s LNG engines, hybrid battery technology, and solar power will make produce the lowest emissions in every category for a vessel of this size, making it the pinnacle of green offshore technology”, according to the Stargate consortium.
Anti-solar panel diagram. Image from IEEE.org.
Cutting edge dynamic positioning
Timeline will require dynamic positioning for all parts of the vessel, even while separated, necessitating the most advanced dynamic positioning system in the world. Dynamic positioning uses computer controlled thrusters to stay on station, even in rough waters. Offshore vessels that need to keep station typically have either DP2 or DP3 dynamic positioning systems. DP2 systems have redundancy that will allow the system to keep functioning after the failure of one component until work can be safely stopped. DP3 systems take this a step further and have the ability to keep a vessel on station with the failure of an active component, static component, or fire or flood of a compartment. DP4 would include failure of the entire system, with a complete backup system in place to keep the vessel on station in the event of catastrophic failure, but continued power generation. The new DP5 system being built for Timeline will include an IBM Quantum System One for the mothership section and one smaller quantum system (details not yet released) for each of the sub-vessels. These systems will have fiber optic connections on board and be interconnected via a quantum cloud network, connecting all five vessel together. Each computer will have enough power to not only take over controls of another vessel, but all of the remaining vessels. This means that even if four of the systems fail, one system is powerful enough to control all of the other vessels.
IBM Quantum System One. Image from IBM.
The mothership section will have eight azimuth thrusters capable of rotating 360 degrees, three tunnel thrusters, and two large propellers. Each sub-vessel will have six retractable azimuth thrusters and one tunnel thruster. When moving as a whole in good weather conditions, the sub-vessels will retract their thrusters for reduced drag and increased efficiency. The vessel will travel long distance with the two propellers as propulsion. “It may seem redundant to include propellers and thrusters on a WTIV, but the propellers will provide more efficient travel and decreased emissions”, according to Stargate Consortium.
Warp speed ahead
With all five vessels connected, Timeline will have a maximum speed of about 14 knots, while each sub-vessel will travel at a maximum of 12 knots. However, with quantum computers on board and recent breakthroughs in studying the Casimir Effect, future travel could be quite a bit faster. According to Extreme Tech, the Casimir Effect is the “attractive force that exists between two uncharged but conductive parallel plates that are held very, very close together.” The principle of spacetime contracting is held in the Alcubierre warp drive, where by contracting space in front the vessel it would drag the vessel forward. This would mean travelling at faster than the speed of light – in other words, shortening travel time across the world from a few weeks to a few seconds. The Stargate Consortium said, “It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could have a warp drive in the next 10-20 years, and this new vessel would be a great candidate.” We look forward to seeing it!
Happy Friday and Happy April Fool’s Day!*
*We hope you enjoyed this week’s blog! This vessel, the Stargate Consortium, and anything related is a work of fiction.
As for the rest of it: Wärtsilä is a maritime engine provider and there are 14MW turbines, 5,000t cranes, quantum computers, and research being done now on the Alcubierre warp drive. IBM is even working with the maritime industry on quantum computing solutions. The warp drive, for now, is just theory but is becoming more plausible as scientists continue their work. Any good fictional story should have some elements of reality!