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ORNL, ExxonMobil announce new R & D partnership

ORNL_outlineBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Anyone who keeps-up with the global shipping container industry knows that it is going through a tough period with cancelled orders for new vessels, mothballing of existing ships, and freight rates that are in a steep decline. All of those realities put considerable cost pressure on those who operate the ships.

At an announcement yesterday in West Knoxville, officials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and ExxonMobil announced a new technology partnership that offers relief in some respects to the challenged sector.

ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company, has entered into a partnership with ORNL to develop and test next generation lubricants for the marine industry. The work involves a new scaled-down ship engine, appropriately named “Enterprise,” that was designed and engineered by MAHLE Powertrain and is now installed at ORNL’s National Transportation Research Center in Hardin Valley.

John Fogarty, Research Team Leader for ExxonMobil, said the name was selected to indicate the pioneering nature of the partnership. While he did not state it directly, one can draw name comparisons with the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the first orbiter; Starship Enterprise from the Star Trek television series; and the USS Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

“Marine vessels transport about 90 percent of the goods globally,” Claus Daniel, Director of ORNL’s Sustainable Transportation Program, told those attending the event. With world commerce so reliant on the big ships, it is critically important that viable solutions are found to the technology challenges facing the sector.

Fogarty said the ships are being operated at lower speeds that are hard on the engines. Those lower speeds are dictated by cost pressures that demand more energy efficiency and new emission regulations.

The “Enterprise” engine will allow researchers to evaluate and develop next generation lubricants quickly and test them by replicating demanding environments in which the ships are operated.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Mike Kass, ORNL Research Team Lead, said.

“ExxonMobil could have gone anywhere, and it chose ORNL,” Daniel noted.


Tom Ballard

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer,
Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.

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