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Shipshape In Burlington

Release time : 2015-06-12 11:09:33
Marine bearings that use seawater as lubrication rather than oil have earned a Burlington company a spot on the short list for an international environmental award. Thordon Bearings Inc. is a finalist for an ocean environmental protection award at the 2011 Sustainable Shipping Awards in London, England, July 7. The company designs and manufactures bearing systems used in ships, power generation and industry. More than 2,000 ships use Thordon??s nonmetallic, seawater lubricated bearings in their propulsion systems. While traditional metal bearings have to be lubricated with grease or oil, Thordon developed a bearing made of elastomeric polymer, a compound that combines the qualities of plastic and rubber, and can be lubricated with seawater. The result is a system that cuts out millions of litres of oil that is leaked into oceans, seas, lakes, harbours and rivers with traditional oil systems. Oil systems typically use about 1,500 litres of pressurized oil within a shaft that runs between the motor and the propeller and is sealed at both ends. ??The oil has to leak out so that seawater doesn??t leak in,?? explains Ryan Edmonds, Thordon??s marketing co-ordinator. When seawater gets into the system, it corrodes the bearings and the shaft seizes, stranding the ship. It??s estimated that a ship can leak up to six litres of oil a day under normal conditions, even more if a seal unexpectedly breaks down or gets damaged by things like ropes, nets, garbage, ice or fishing line picked up from the water. Six litres across an ocean might seem insignificant at first glance but multiply that by the world??s large commercial marine fleet of about 48,000 cruise liners, container ships, tankers and bulk carriers and that adds up to more than 86 million litres of oil a year. (Some studies put the pollution at double or triple that amount.) That??s roughly equivalent to 130 Olympic-sized pools filled with oil. The monumental Exxon Valdez disaster spilled about 41 million litres. Thordon bearings were fitted onto Carnival Corporation??s Grand Princess, the largest cruise ship in the world when she hit the seas in 1998. There were few dry docks that could take the vessel should there be an oil leak. The Thordon bearings are holding up well, an April inspection showed. Carnival has installed Thordon bearings on 14 of its cruise ships and has ordered them for two future builds. The bearings are also found on all Disney ships, the vessels of 41 navys and coast guards, BP tankers, New York City Staten Island ferries and on many Great Lakes ships. The company can make bearings for any size of ship, says Edmonds. ??We make them in all sizes, up to two metres in diameter to fitting on your pinky finger.?? Seawater lubricated systems were recommended by the World Wildlife Fund and Friends of the Earth International as a means to achieve the goal of zero pollution from ships. Beyond the environmental benefits, Thordon bearings eliminate the risk of catastrophic failure of the shaft system that can cost shipping companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in dry docking fees, emergency repairs, lost time and possible fines and penalties for polluting. In the United States, for instance, typical fines are $35,000 a day and can be levied against both a company and individuals on board a ship. There can also be criminal penalties imposed. Canadian laws include up to a $1 million fine for polluting in areas frequented by migratory birds. For shipping companies, the cost of a public relations hit over a pollution incident can be huge too, says Edmonds. ??Cruise ships can??t risk the liability or bad publicity of a stranded ship or their passengers seeing a sheen of oil behind the ship.?? The seawater system is more expensive initially, due to the need to use bronze liners rather than steel that will corrode, but Edmonds says it pays off in lower maintenance and liability risks. More ship owners are converting their ships to seawater systems, says Edmonds. Thordon has done five conversions this year, including, perhaps ironically, oil company vessels. Thordon is a spinoff of a century-old industrial and engineering products company called Thomson-Gordon founded in Hamilton by the great-great-grandfather of current owner and chairman George (Sandy) Thomson. The nonmetallic bearings business began with a simple experiment in a small corner of the plant in the 1960s. Thordon Bearings was incorporated in 1990, the same year Thomson bought a Russian deep sea salvage steam tug and converted it to a ??floating showcase?? of the company??s bearing and seal products. The tug visited more than 200 ports around the world over the next 14 years, selling ship owners on the company??s new products.