Europe to manufacture ships of the future

A new European research project seeks to revolutionize the shipbuilding sector by replacing steel with composite materials for the construction of more efficient large length ships.

FIBRESHIP is an ambitious project that will allow for the construction of light commercial vessels, passenger and leisure transport and oceanographic vessels more than 50 meters in length using fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) composite 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.

The project involves 18 international entities representing the European shipping and shipbuilding industry from 11 countries including Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Romania and Spain. Dr Anthony Comer (UL lead Principal Investigator) and Dr Ioannis  Manolakis (UL co-Investigator and Project Manager) from the School of Engineering and the Irish Composites Centre (IComp) at UL are the experts in the composites element on this project.

The project aims to drive the development and adoption of composites in the European shipbuilding industry. It will create the knowledge and tools for the construction of large composite merchant ships, over 50 metres in length, both seagoing and for inland waterways, thus overcoming the challenges and technology gaps which are currently found in conventional shipbuilding.

At present, most of the pleasure boats and sailboats, ferries, patrol boats and rescue ships of less than 50 meters in length are already manufactured with FRP materials instead of the classic steel, but until now the use of such materials for vessels over 50 metres in length was limited to secondary structures and components.

Among the potential benefits of using composite materials can be the reduction of up to 30% in the weight of ships, a decrease in fuel consumption of between 10% and 15%, an increase in recycling ratio from the current 34% for steel structures to 75%, a substantial reduction of greenhouse gases, less noise pollution and an increase in cargo capacity by roughly 12%.

Dr Anthony Comer, Lecturer at the School of Engineering, UL said “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. In fact, Europe continues to classify the largest proportion of all newly constructed civilian and merchant ships in the world. FIBRESHIP stands out as the first initiative to comprehensively introduce FRP in the construction of larger vessels.

Dr Ioannis Manolakis, Research Fellow in Composite Materials and IComp Research Coordinator added “The Irish ocean economy is foreseen to benefit directly from the innovations expected from FIBRESHIP in the direction of 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 (e.g. marine manufacturing-engineering-construction) and emerging (e.g. marine renewable energy) industries is also expected to be significant further down the line.”

Dr Terry McGrail, IComp Director noted: “This is a significant success for IComp and UL, and a great opportunity to transfer composites expertise and know-how  developed at high technology readiness level in UL and IComp in particular to new sectors such as shipbuilding.”

About the consortium

FIBRESHIP is an international consortium of 18 organizations from 11 countries (Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain) comprising:

• Three world leading classification and certification organizations—BUREAU VERITAS, LLOYD’S REGISTER, and RINA.

• Four medium-sized European shipyards—iXblue, NAVSHIP, SOERMAR, and TUCO.

• Three renowned research centres chosen for their experience and experimental capacity—CIMNE, ULIM, and VTT.

• Four relevant ship owners—ANEK, DANAOS, FOINIKAS, and IEO.

• Four companies specialising in shipbuilding architecture and engineering, in advanced solutions and in the development of CAE software for naval architecture and business consultancy—ATEKNEA, COMPASS IS, TSI, and TWI

Its Advisory Board consists of 13 organisations, including prominent shipbuilders such as NAVANTIA and FINCANTIERI


The European Union concentrates an important part of its research and development activities in its Framework Programme for the 2014-2020 period, known as Horizon 2020 (H2020). With a total budget of €80,000 million, the programme addresses pressing social challenges, promotes industrial leadership in Europe, and reinforces the excellence of its science base.

Horizon 2020 supports research and innovation projects with a wide range of technology readiness levels,  from the generation of knowledge to activities that are closer to the market: basic research, technology development, demonstration projects, pilot manufacturing lines, social innovation, technology transfer, concept tests, standardisation, support for pre-commercial public-sector purchases, venture capital, and guarantee systems.

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Written by ICompteam