IMARES constructs unique testing facility for ballast water management systems

Published on
June 3, 2013

From July 2013 onwards, IMARES Wageningen UR will have at its disposal a unique ballast water testing facility to test ballast water management (BWM) systems in a range of controlled environments. This system will make it possible to determine the most extreme conditions under which the systems are still capable of removing living organisms from ships’ ballast water.

Freighters haul billions of tons of ballast water round the world every year, which allows organisms such as plankton, mussels, crabs and jellyfish to hitch a lift with them as stowaways. With the new ballast water testing facility, IMARES will be making an important contribution to efforts to reduce levels of undesirable organisms in coastal regions.

Construction new ballast water testing facility

Construction of IMARES’s new ballast water testing facility in the Spoorweghaven harbour in Den Helder, The Netherlands, started at the end of May. The initial tests with this new facility are scheduled for July and will be carried out for the French company Bio-UV.

Testing and evaluating with guidelines

The new facility means that IMARES will be able to offer manufacturers of BWM systems a complete research package for the testing and evaluation of their systems. The evaluation will be performed in connection with the certification process carried out in line with the guidelines issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and with the United States Coast Guard’s Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) guidelines. IMARES can also carry out lab tests and pilot trials for prototypes of ballast water management systems.

Specifications ballast water testing facility

The new testing facility consists of one feed tank with a volume of 730 cubic metres in which a special combination of organisms, sediment and water properties (freshwater and brackish, UV transmission) can be achieved in a controlled environment. Also, there are two testing tanks, each of which has a volume of 260 cubic metres.

This will allow ballast water management systems to be tested, not only for certification purposes, but also to determine the limits of their effectiveness. This means that IMARES goes beyond the requirements of current regulations.

The tanks are located outdoors, which means that testing can be carried out year-round. This also allows the most extreme temperatures at which the systems are still effective to be determined. This information is of vital importance because the shipping industry continues in all seasons, and because these days, the melting ice caps mean that vessels are increasingly following routes that take them close to the North Pole.

What does ballast water do?

Ships load up on ballast water in order to maintain equilibrium regardless of cargo weight. Non-indigenous species are transported all over the world in this ballast water. Discharges of ballast water can lead to localised disruptions of ecosystems in coastal areas. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has mandatory rules for managing ballast water on board vessels.

When ships arrive in harbours, the exotic plants and creatures discharged could seriously harm both the local ecosystem and the economy. Coastal regions are especially vulnerable to this threat. Applied research by IMARES Wageningen UR is making an important contribution to efforts to tackle this problem.