German start-up develops water-based process for recycling ships

Leviathan's automated cold water cutting machine dismantling the steel hull of a vessel being decommissioned (Photo: Leviathan Technologies)

A recently established technology start-up company in Germany seeks to address some of the negative issues associated with ship recycling, particularly emissions, pollution, and risks to workers’ safety.

Based in Cuxhaven, Leviathan Technologies was founded in 2021 by naval architects Simeon Hiertz and Karsten Schumacher in response to growing global demand for environment-friendly ship recycling. The partners behind Leviathan hope to reduce CO2 emissions and improve safety while ensuring that recycling continues to be implemented more economically and on an industrial scale.

The solution proposed by Leviathan involves a specialised process utilising jets of cold water. This eliminates the need for hot works in the dismantling of steel, which could otherwise cause the release of flammable toxic gases, dust, and sparks. Also, no workers will be present on or in the vessel since the processes are highly automated.

The dismantled sections will then be cut into smaller pieces on a separation area. All resources are then sorted, cleaned, and made available for re-use where applicable, while the water used for cutting and other waste substances that need to be disposed of are taken care of respectively.

The entire recycling process requires a ship recycling plan (SRP), which will be drafted by Leviathan for approval by the relevant flag state. A final survey will then be carried out by the flag state or any recognised organisation prior to the commencement of the dismantling itself.

Preliminary trials of Leviathan’s cold water jet process revealed significant reductions in CO2 emissions during actual dismantling. The company claims that up to 1.6 tonnes fewer CO2 is emitted for each tonne of steel produced via dismantling.

The initial application of the technology was in June of this year, when an aging construction vessel arrived at the facilities of German Naval Yards Kiel for dismantling. Schumacher said the pilot demonstration allowed for verification to determine compliance to ESG standards.

Schumacher added there is also a concept being developed wherein large closed docks will serve as the venues for the recycling to be executed. Hiertz meanwhile expects that each of these facilities will be capable of safely dismantling up to 50 Panamax ships in one year.

There are currently plans to have similar recycling facilities established in northern Germany and subsequently throughout the rest of Europe to cater to growing demand from shipowners.

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