When URI’s research ship, the R/V Endeavor, tops off its 53,000-gallon fuel tanks, it fills up with refined biodiesel. It’s the very first ship in the entire U.S. research fleet to use the alternative fuel. And it’s just the first step of many in the University’s plan to transform the 185-foot ship into the most energy-efficient and “green” research vessel in the country.
“As we study the marine environment around the world on this great research vessel, it is vitally important that we do so with the smallest environmental impact possible,” said Dennis Nixon, associate dean at the Graduate School of Oceanography.
When URI oceanography and marine science students head out to sea, their classes will take place on the most Earth-friendly ship in the nation’s academic fleet.
The locally produced refined biodiesel fuel being used in the ship’s three generators and 3,000 horsepower main engine contains about five percent biofuel mixed with diesel, and costs slightly less per gallon than regular diesel fuel. The goal is to gradually increase the percentage of biofuel used to about 20 percent. At the same time, by increasing the efficiency of the equipment used on the ship, Nixon believes that electrical demand may be reduced so much that the Endeavor could operate on just one generator at a time instead of two.
That change will save thousands of gallons of fuel, reduce the noise impact on marine life, and reduce harmful emissions. “The more biodiesel we use, the fewer stack emissions we have,” he said.
The next step in the greening of the Endeavor will be a switch from petroleum-based hydraulic fluids to biodegradable vegetable-based hydraulic fluids. More efficient lighting, galley appliances, water heaters, water makers, and other equipment will be installed, and engine seals will be upgraded to allow for the use of progressively higher amounts of biodiesel fuel.
So when URI oceanography and marine science students, K-12 educators, and oceanographic researchers head out to sea, their classrooms will be on the most Earth-friendly ship in the nation’s academic fleet.