• Monday, October 15, 2018

Alfa Laval: The separation experts

By BCShippingNews 30 April 2018
Richard Thomas, Alfa Laval’s Global Sales Manager for Marine & Diesel, stands with local rep Derek Gluschenko during a recent visit to Vancouver.
Alfa Laval was established based on one single technology invented by founder Gustaf de Laval in 1877 — the centrifugal separator.

Richard Thomas, Global Sales Manager, Marine & Diesel for Alfa Laval, recently toured the new build of a major cruise line at a European yard. The ship provides a perfect overview of Alfa Laval solutions for the marine industry. “Multi-effect fresh water generators, fuel separators, fuel conditioning systems, bilge separators, sludge dewatering, heat exchangers, steam boilers (with natural circulation), they’re all on there,” said Thomas. “It’s like a floating Alfa Laval showroom.” While cruise is certainly one of the most significant market segments for Alfa Laval’s marine sector because of their significant focus on environmental sustainability, the products are just as applicable industry-wide. From fishing vessels and yachts, to ferries, tankers, container ships and bulkers, the Alfa Laval name can usually be found affixed to many pieces of onboard equipment. Indeed, with over 2,500 patents, Alfa Laval’s reputation as the separation expert is deservedly earned.


With a 28-year career at Alfa Laval, few are better suited than Thomas to describe the evolution and innovation that have defined the company’s 135-year history. Joining Alfa Laval following service at sea as a marine engineer cadet with Canadian Pacific Steamships, Thomas has always worked within the marine sector at the company. Following his position as Regional Business Manager, the last 10 years have seen him as the Global Sales Manager and point person for ship owner relationship management.

Photo above: Richard Thomas, Alfa Laval’s Global Sales Manager for Marine & Diesel, stands with local rep Derek Gluschenko during a recent visit to Vancouver.

Working with colleagues around the world (including Derek Gluschenko here in British Columbia), Thomas noted that Alfa Laval offices are inter-connected with all reporting back to the centralized headquarters in Sweden. Using Gluschenko as an example, he works across all three divisions of Alfa Laval — the Energy Division, the Food & Water Division and the Marine Division. Citing examples like Molson’s, West Coast Reduction, the Vancouver Convention Centre, BC Ferries, Seaspan and Teekay, Gluschenko explained that the core technologies of heat transfer, separation and fluid handling are applicable throughout many different industries. 

Alfa Laval was established based on one single technology invented by founder Gustaf de Laval in 1877 — the centrifugal separator. “Essentially, the technology that applies to bilge water systems on cruise ships is the same as that used for separating cream,” said Gluschenko. “We’re removing solids from liquids and separating the different types of liquids.”

Of course, a lot has changed since the first cream separator pumps were sold to dairy farms in Stockholm in the 1880s but the basic concept — a centrifuge bowl rotating inside a larger stationary container with denser liquids (and solids) accumulating at the periphery of the bowl and less dense liquid accumulating at the rotation axis — still applies.

On the marine side, Alfa Laval celebrated its 100th year of supplying to the sector in 2017, starting with the U.S. Navy and the installation of an oil separator used to break water emulsions in lube oil on vessels driven by steam turbines. The century has been marked by innovations in heat exchangers, freshwater generators, sterilization processing systems and fluid handling equipment.

The environmental revolution

Fast forward to the 1990s and, with more and more attention (and regulations) focused on environmental footprints and greater energy efficiencies, Alfa Laval’s product offerings increased significantly. “When I joined the company in 1989, we had five products on offer to the marine sector. Now we have 17,” said Thomas. “One of the first environmental products we offered was the bilge separator based on demand from the cruise industry.”

In 2004, Alfa Laval established the Pure Thinking platform as the framework for marine environmental solutions — for example, the bilge separator product noted above, originally called Ecostream, was renamed to PureBilge as subsequent, improved versions were released. “Bilge was a big challenge but the industry was looking for a better solution,” said Thomas. “Cruise was the first to have a dynamic, high-speed separator solution as opposed to the static g-force provided by the typical coalescer technology.”

The Pure Thinking platform has been extended to now include PureBallast, PureVent, PureDry and PureSOx as well as Pure NOx.

The ballast water treatment system, PureBallast 3.1, received U.S. Coast Guard type-approval (December 2016) and now also meets with International Maritime Organization G8 guidelines, making Alfa Laval the first to get certification. When asked to explain the difference between other UV-based treatment systems, Thomas noted that key to PureBallast 3.1 is the reactor’s UV lamps which are combined with specially designed lamp sleeves of synthetic quartz. “As well as optimizing the breadth of the wavelength spectrum, the sleeves have a high transmission efficiency that results in more UV light during disinfection. Combined with the flow-optimized design of the reactor interior, they ensure optimal UV dosage and low energy consumption,” he said, noting that the evolution of the system was based on practical experience and customer feedback. “This dimming function that the third generation has means you can adjust the load based on environmental performance requirements.”

PureVent (currently at version 2.0) was developed specifically for use with marine diesel engines and power plant generators. It employs high-speed centrifugal separation to separate oil mist and other particles from the crankcase gas produced by these engines. The separated oil can then be re-circulated for use as a lubricant. Tests with PureVent show a cleaning efficiency as high as 99.99 per cent, unmatched by previous technologies.

PureDry is a fully automated, modular system designed to treat and recover valuable oils found in sludge on board ships and in power plants. The system separates the waste oil into three phases: cleaned oil, water and super-dry solids. The efficiency of the system in terms of drying up oily waste streams means holding tank volumes for waste oil and wastewater can be reduced, thus freeing up valuable space on board a ship or in a power plant.

While Alfa Laval has over 40 years of marine scrubber experience, PureSOx now offers a complete SOx scrubber platform that allows for compliance using heavy fuel oils rather than more expensive alternatives within Emission Control Areas and the upcoming global sulphur cap that takes effect in 2020. PureSOx was launched in 2011 after the acquisition of Aalborg Industries, a world leader in boiler systems, thermal fluid systems, waste heat recovery systems and inert gas systems. “Before the acquisition, we worked closed with Aalborg for the water separators on the closed loop for scrubbers,” said Thomas. “The technology can be applied to numerous applications.”

PureNOx is the complete water treatment system for use in an Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) circuit where it cleans both the circulation water and the bleed-off water for overboard discharge. In another example of collaboration with industry, Thomas pointed out that Alfa Laval is working with MAN on their Tier III engines and is providing the WTU (water treatment unit), an important part of the EGR system for those engines.

Over and above the increased activity Thomas is seeing from ship owners investigating scrubber technology as well as ballast water treatment systems, Alfa Laval is continuing to evolve its offerings to the marine and offshore markets. In 2013, they expanded into the LNG market by acquiring the Gas Combustion Unit which provides a reliable and safe way to handle excess boil-off gas on LNG carriers and other vessels using LNG as a fuel. In 2014, they acquired Norwegian company Frank Mohn (also known as “Framo”), a leading manufacturer of submerged pumping systems. Thomas also reported that Alfa Laval has been involved in the supply of fuel supply systems with projects involving methanol as an alternative fuel.

The next 100 years

Despite a basic technology that was invented over 100 years ago, Alfa Laval continues to evolve its products and systems. “It’s more about operations around the machine,” said Thomas. “If you look inside the high speed separators, for example, development of fluid dynamics has allowed for machines to get much smaller, more robust and much more efficient. We are continually improving — more separation per kilogram, for example, or automatically adjusting the flow in line with engine consumption to achieve energy savings (Flowsync).”

And while the future isn’t so much focused on a complete revolution, Thomas continues to see more evolution and adaptation driven by customer demand. He was also quick to point out that Alfa Laval’s reputation as the separator experts attracts other companies that require solutions to separation challenges. “Aalborg is a good example of that. Before the acquisition, they had a separation need with their water treatment systems for scrubbers so we worked together to solve it.”

Another area of growth for Alfa Laval is on the research and development side. In 2014, the Alfa Laval Test & Training Centre in Aalborg, Denmark was opened. Equipment, applications and process lines can be tested here on the scale of an ocean-going ship, including a two megawatt marine diesel engine in a full-size machine room simulation.

Other issues — such as connectivity and automation — are continually being investigated.  Thomas used the cruise ship industry and their fresh water production needs as another example where research continues to translate into energy savings. “Innovations in these areas impact on energy efficiency management and life cycle costs,” he said.

And don’t forget one of the most important aspects of Alfa Laval’s operations, according to Thomas. “A big part of our marine organization is dedicated to a global service network to support onboard equipment,” he said. “As the leading supplier for these systems, it’s imperative for us to follow our customers’ needs and to collaborate at many different stages.” 

Indeed, Alfa Laval’s corporate mission statement sums up the mindset perfectly: “To optimize the performance of our customers’ processes” — which Thomas translates to “optimized vessel performance” in the marine industry. That said, it’s safe to assume that Alfa Laval will continue to be the separation experts.