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Maersk Triple-E Class of Green Container Ships

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Maersk Triple-E Class:

LOA: 1312 feet (400 m)

Beam: 213 feet (65 m)

Air Draft: 239 feet (73 m)

Cargo Capacity: 18000 TEU

Builder: Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering

When Maersk takes delivery of the first Triple-E Class ship in 2013 it will be the world's largest ship of any kind. The current record holder is another Maersk container vessel, Emma Maersk.

The new ships gain an additional 2500 TEU over the Emma, but this is not an endeavor to build the largest ship. The goal of the Maersk Triple-E Class is to build the most efficient ship.

Since this is a container ship the easiest way to look at performance is by individual container cost. The fuel consumed per container will be about one third as much as the average ship working Asia - Europe routes. Carbon emissions are another important measure of efficiency and the Triple-E cuts carbon dioxide by half compared to the average container ship sailing similar routes.

Maersk will have less financial exposure to fluctuating fuel costs and fuel regulations than other carriers as each of the ten contracted ships are delivered. The cost of each ship is expected to be 191 million USD.

How do you make a ship this efficient?

The simple answer is size. When a ship is built larger the interior volume obviously increases but the portion of the hull exposed to the most friction grows much less.

The friction that causes drag in the water is mostly confined to the bow and stern transitions. Increasing length contributes little to the overall drag of a hull.

Hull shape is also a major contributor to the design. The Maersk Triple-E uses a bulbous bow like most modern ships. This protruding bow below the waterline produces a lower pressure cone of water that allows the ship to slide trough the water with much less resistance.

To understand how this works think of a motorcycle going down a highway with air in place of the water.

A rider and the motorcycle itself have poor aerodynamics. Air piles up and pushes against the bike and rider using more power and fuel to overcome the resistance. Now add a small windshield or fairing and the air hitting these surfaces slips past the obstructions much more efficiently. The air hitting the aerodynamic surfaces also splits the incoming air in such a way that it acts like a much larger surface pushing adjacent air streams away from obstructions.

Naval architects design hulls with similar characteristics.

The bulbous bow splits the water and directs it away from the sides of the hull. This low pressure cone varies in size according to the speed of a vessel. The Triple-E and other ships are designed with an ideal operating speed in mind. This concept is often referred to as hull speed.

At an ideal hull speed the low pressure cone of water is just large enough to accommodate the ship. A perfect hull allows the area of low resistance to collapse just in front of the prop. This configuration allows minimum resistance to the hull while limiting the possibility of cavitation of the props by increasing water flow and pressure.

The Triple-E, which stands for economy of scale, energy efficiency and environmentally improved, does use a very efficient power plant but the hull design is the major factor in making it the most efficient container ship to sail.

By simply reducing the fuel consumption, Maersk designers have made a massive impact on emissions. Many of the hull design techniques are common is modern ship building but they have been combined and optimized to become a set of best practices for large ship design.

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