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Lighter, fuel-efficient ships for a sustainable future

Ultra-efficient ships built with innovative, lightweight materials using sustainable manufacturing processes are taking to the seas thanks to an EU-funded project that promises to boost the competitiveness of the European maritime industry - and benefit the environment.

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Advanced materials such as fibre-reinforced composites and novel metal alloys have become increasingly common in modern cars and aircraft but commercial cargo and passenger ships are still made almost exclusively of heavy steel.

That is now set to change as 37 industrial and research partners from the EU-funded RAMSSES project lay the groundwork for the widespread integration of components made from innovative, lightweight materials – from hulls, superstructures, decks and cabins, to rudders and propellers.

With 13 demonstrators under development and one composite-fitted ship already in commercial use, RAMSSES will showcase how advanced materials not only match or surpass the resilience, strength and safety of steel but can cut the weight of ships in half, enabling them to carry more passengers and cargo while reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

‘RAMSSES aims to pave the way for an economically viable application of innovative materials and structural solutions in European-built ships,’ says Frank Roland, technical director of the Center of Maritime Technologies in Germany, which is in charge of technical management of the project.

‘In our vision, future ships – just like aircraft and cars – will feature a much wider choice of materials with the right properties in the right place, with non-metallic composite materials gradually replacing traditional steel.’

Fuel-saving features

The advantages of advanced materials are already being demonstrated commercially aboard the SIEM Cicero, the first merchant ship regulated under the international SOLAS safety standard to be fitted with composite panels.

Built by RAMSSES partner Uljanik Shipyard in Croatia, the vehicle transporter features plastic composite sandwich panels that lower the weight of the deck structure by 230 metric tonnes, enabling ballast to be reduced by 575 tonnes.

This translates into fuel savings of more than two tonnes per day – or a more than 800-tonne increase in cargo capacity. The design, which won the 2018 JEC Innovation Award, is being further optimised as part of ongoing work in the RAMSSES project.

Other demonstrators, including prototypes set to be put to the test in sea trials, will showcase an entire hull made out of fibre-reinforced composites, a 3D-printed propeller blade and a lightweight rudder flap.

Further innovative features include composite superstructures, walls and cabins for passenger ferries, cruise ships and smaller vessels, as well as composite overlays for hull repairs and internal fireproofing systems.

In addition to reducing weight and increasing efficiency, advanced materials that can withstand prolonged exposure to harsh maritime conditions and meet international safety standards will lower maintenance costs and improve the lifecycle of ships.

New materials will also support shipbuilders’ adoption of novel and sustainable manufacturing processes based on serial or modular production and reusable and recyclable components that will mitigate the environmental impact of the maritime industry.

Focus on the future

The 13 industry-led and market-driven demonstrators, which cover the entire maritime process chain across component production, assembly and repair, will each undergo a thorough evaluation, supported by expert advisory groups and knowledge-exchange with other industries applying advanced materials.

As part of the project, material technical performance will be validated and lifecycle cost efficiency and environmental impact assessed following common procedures and testing standards, supervised by rule-making bodies to ensure the results are relevant for future commercial applications.

Expensive and lengthy case-by-case regulatory approval is currently a main obstacle for a wider use of advanced materials in shipbuilding, according to Roland.

‘The results of RAMSSES will therefore contribute to cross-sector standards for materials, techniques and testing, as well as specific maritime rules, regulations and faster approval processes,’ he says. ‘For this, the partners are working in close cooperation with other projects, classification societies, European organisations and members of the International Maritime Organization.’

RAMSSES results will also feed into a comprehensive database and knowledge repository of materials, components, designs and manufacturing techniques. This will support innovation and adoption beyond the end of the project, strengthening the competitiveness of European companies across the entire maritime value chain – from material innovators and component manufacturers, to shipbuilders and shipping firms.

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Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator: Italy
Project participants:
United Kingdom
Total cost
€ 13 494 091
EU Contribution
€ 10 799 440
Project duration

See also

More information about project RAMSSES

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