Irish experts part of project to build larger ships with fibre

Fibre could increase recycling ratio from 34% for steel structures to 75%

A  yacht  under construction  in Pisa, Italy.  Boats made   from fibre are sleeker and lighter, reducing  fuel consumption. Photographer: Alberto Bernasconi

A yacht under construction in Pisa, Italy. Boats made from fibre are sleeker and lighter, reducing fuel consumption. Photographer: Alberto Bernasconi


Experts from the University of Limerick are at the heart of a project in the shipbuilding industry that will reduce fuel consumption in large vessels by replacing steel with the same fibre materials used in the likes of pleasure boats.

At present most pleasure boats, sailboats, ferries, patrol boats and rescue ships of less than 50m are manufactured using fibre reinforced polymer composite materials instead of the classic steel used in larger vessels that sail on the high seas.

Until now the use of such materials for vessels more than 50m long was limited to secondary structures and components.

However, an EU-funded research project called Fibreship is now working on the construction of light commercial vessels, passenger and leisure transport and oceanographic vessels more than 50m in length with the same materials.

It is one of the largest innovation projects funded by the EU with a budget of €11 million, of which €9 million is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 Programme.

Among the potential benefits of using fibre can be the reduction of up to 30 per cent in the weight of ships, and a decrease in fuel consumption of between 10 per cent and 15 per cent.

Furthermore, it can generate an increase in the recycling ratio from the current 34 per cent for steel structures to 75 per cent; bring about a substantial reduction in greenhouse gases; reduce noise pollution; and increase cargo capacity by roughly 12 per cent.

Shipbuilding industry

The project involves 18 international entities representing the European shipping and shipbuilding industry from 11 countries including Ireland, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Spain.

It aims to drive the development and adoption of fibre in the European shipbuilding industry, and seeks to create the knowledge and tools for the construction of large merchant ships over 50m with such materials.

The vessels would be both seagoing and for inland waterways, thus overcoming the challenges and technology gaps which are currently found in conventional shipbuilding.

The project experts on fibre are Dr Anthony Comer and Dr Ioannis Manolakis from the University of Limerick. Dr Comer said the project “stands out” as the first initiative to “comprehensively introduce” fibre in the construction of larger vessels.

“Europe’s leadership position in the world shipbuilding industry in value terms is based on its commitment to research, technology innovation and the delivery of high value-added products,” he said.

“In fact, Europe continues to classify the largest proportion of all newly-constructed civilian and merchant ships in the world.”


Dr Manolakis said the project would bring positive impacts for other sectors. “The Irish ocean economy is foreseen to benefit directly from the innovations expected from Fibreship,” he said.

These would include “the realisation of a lightweight composite large-length ship, with expected impacts on ship fuel economy, cargo and passenger capacity and environmental footprint”.

“The positive impact on other established [like marine manufacturing-engineering-construction] and emerging [such as marine renewable energy] industries is also expected to be significant further down the line.”