Making Maritime Shipping Cleaner, Greener, and Cheaper

August 8, 2020
By Andrea Busfield

A research and development engineer is aiming to clean up the maritime industry with a world first – a carbon neutral ballast water treatment system.

Mark Hadfield, a British expat living in Cyprus, has developed a pioneering, eco-friendly way to treat ballast water containing invasive species that will run on close-to-zero costs.

“Our FlowSafe system is now in the final stages of type approval,” Mark said. “We’ve received huge support along the way from the Cyprus shipping community, which has given us an order book of €40million and we have letters of intent that take that order book to over €200million.

“We aim to make this a billion-turnover company in the next five years.”

In basic terms, ballast water stabilises vessels at sea, but while it is essential for safe and efficient modern shipping operations, it can pose serious ecological, economic and health problems.

“If you’ve loaded water in the Far East and sail back to Cyprus, dropping this water in Cyprus waters can cause major disruption,” explained Mark. “These waters contain invasive species as well as bacteria and viruses that are not native to our waters, and globally this is a huge problem – it’s killing fish, it can kill humans, it’s spreading risk and it’s destroying eco systems.”

According to the International Maritime Organization, scientists first took notice of the emerging hazards following an outbreak of Asian algae in the North Sea in 1903. By the 1980s, Canada and Australia were among countries reporting particular problems with invasive species, and they brought their concerns to the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee who admitted that “the effects in many areas of the world have been devastating”.

With the spread of invasive species now recognised as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and economic well-being of the planet, the Ballast Water Management Convention, adopted in 2004, established certain standards and procedures including a requirement that all ships in international traffic manage their ballast water and sediments to a certain standard. These standards continue to be phased in over a period of time, but eventually most ships will need to install an on-board ballast water treatment system.

With a background in research and development engineering, Mark realised this was a potentially huge and credible business to be in and in 2012 he established Flow Water Technologies Ltd.

“The Ballast Water Convention requires that every vessel starting this year, and over the next five years, has to install a ballast water treatment system. As it stands there are only 30 companies in the world with the right paperwork and qualifications to do this. I knew I could be one of them.”

Mark’s Flowsafe system has been seven years in the making – from concept to trial – and the company is now only weeks away from IMO and US Coast Guard approval.

“Everything we have done so far has been technically compliant,” he said. “We have met all the requirements, the machines have performed extremely well and we’re now in the final stages with one of our ballast water machines on board a vessel to complete a six-month sea trial. The ship went out in February and once the trial is finished it’s simply a matter of going through the administration process to get our licence.

“It has been quite a journey and I’m really proud of the technology we’ve developed.”

Priding itself on its forward-thinking approach to present-day problems, Flow Water Technologies has been awarded the EU Commission’s Seal of Excellence for innovation. However, Mark says his drive does not come from potential business opportunities, but rather from an innate curiosity about how things work and how they can be made to work better.

“It’s very easy to fix something yet never understand why you broke it,” he said. “For instance, you can weld a piece of steel together that has snapped, but what caused it to snap in the first place? It’s this curiosity that has ultimately led me to where I am today.

“I was involved in the haulage industry in the UK, working on engine development when ultra-low sulphur diesels came into use. This presented a lot of problems for engines with lubrication and, ultimately, it’s a similar concept to the fuel-saving device I then came up with that we use now as part of the FlowSafe ballast water system,” he explained.  

“Clearly, I can’t say too much, but the technology we use on water creates a reaction similar to that in fuel, which assists with the lubrication. Of course, a ship’s engine is not like a car engine that actually adds lubricants, but the fuel plays a crucial part in how the engine runs. Expert marine engineers are predicting a 37% increase in the failure of engines because of ultra-low sulphur diesel due to a problem with aluminium silicates in the fuel and what we do pretty much eliminates that problem. As a side effect, it has also created a fuel saving in shipping so, by curing one problem some years ago I indirectly solved almost by accident – and our ballast water treatment system became carbon neutral,” he said.

This accidental discovery actually set back the development of FlowSafe after Mark convinced shareholders it was too good an opportunity to let float by. It also cost them an extra €1.7million to stop testing, add the extra element to the system, and pass the product through the factory acceptance test again.  

While Mark’s innovative ideas form the backbone of Flow Water Technologies Ltd., he says much of what he has achieved in the past seven years has been due to shareholders who believe in him and the tremendous support of the Cyprus government and the island’s maritime industry.

He said, “this really is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my whole career. I’m supported by a fantastic team, I’ve got the sun on my back in a wonderful country and I’ve got the full support of the Cyprus shipping industry, which is hugely respected, globally … For a company to achieve what we have done from Cyprus, on a relatively small budget – there are companies out there that have spent €50million to €100million on their products – is largely thanks to the support we have received from the shipping community here as well as the Cypriot government that has embraced what we are doing.”

Since the financial crisis of 2008, Cyprus has actively courted home-grown talent as well as foreign investment, offering a number of attractive incentives to establish the island as a world-class destination for international business activity.

George Campanellas, CEO of the government agency Invest Cyprus, said Mark’s FlowSafe technology is exactly the kind of innovation the island is trying to encourage.

 “Mark’s pioneering ballast water treatment system is a hugely exciting development that Cyprus is proud to be associated with. FlowSafe not only adds to the already excellent global reputation of our shipping industry, but it works to ensure the future safety of our planet, something that should be of concern to all of us in this day and age.”


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