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Waterborne Transport and Air Polution Laboratory: Unique in Lithuania

The Marine Research Institute of Klaipėda University opened the doors of a new building of research laboratories on the eve of the Centennial of the Restoration of Lithuania. The building  houses four laboratories, including the Waterborne Transport and Air Polution Lab. Its head dr. Paulius Rapalis is telling us about its activities, the equipment unique in Lithuania, and the projects with foreign partners.

What does the Waterborne Transport and Air Polution Lab do?

The Lab provides the services of testing fuels (solid, liquid, and biofuel) and the emission of air pollutants. Moreover, we provide access to the equipment to those who are willing to carry out research in those areas, including Klaipėda University students.

What kind of equipment do you have in your laboratory? 

The equipment was accumulated gradually. When we were called the Air Pollution and Ship Research Laboratory, we were able to carry out certain reseach on the properties of fuels and emissions of fuel burning systems. In the course of time, the range of fuel tests carried out in our lab expanded: we started testing oils and hematological properties of fuels. We acquired a mobile Air Pollution Research Laboratory which made it possible for us to measure air pollution in the environment. Having moved into a new building, we expect new important supplements to our lab equipment. The first one is an engine test stand. Before now, we were able to test only the hematological properties of fuels. Thanks to the new equipment, under varying load conditions of the same engine, we’ll be able to test its properties: to assess its efficiency and the energy and ecological indicators and to establish the impact of particual fuels or fuel mixes on the emission of air pollutants from an internal combustion engine. Another piece of equipment is a flow channel, the first one in Lithuania. It imitates real sea conditions for different maritime objects on a smaller scale. The flow channel is filled with water, and then waves are created in it; the process helps establish the impact of waves on the hull of the vessel.

How is the activity of the laboratory important at the national and international level?

The laboratory focuses on the waterborne transport research, and it is the only one of its kind in Lithuania; it is unique. We have been working in the field for a number of years and have our own methodologies. Together with foreign engineers, we carry out large scale projects in order to achieve the EU-set goals. Currently, we have a number of strict requirements and rules for air pollution regulation, thus, by participating in projects that seek to identify global pollution problems, we represent Lithuania.

Are you currently carrying out any international projects?

We recently completed the ZEB (Zero Emissions in the Baltic Sea) project, conducted together with partners from Sweden and Finland. The aim of the project was to investigate the composition of oil-polluted waters. Oil-polluted water is the result of various processes; it does not necessarily contain only oils, it may contain a variety of detergents or hiuger metal concentrations. To find that out, we took samples from ships and coastlines. As proved by the results, there were various metal and detergent residues in those waters. Currently, we cooperate with the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden on a joint project in which several specific laboratories working in the same field will carry out complex measurements together. The project will be of interest for us, too, e.g., in the studies of ship tracks. Just imagine a passing ship with the tracks coming from its funnels. There is a certain number of parameters that can be named through the analysis of the tracks; various methods are applied. We have a mobile lab that takes air samples and monitors the changes in concentrations. Our Swedish partners have a plane and, flying over the ship tracks, they can take samples. The aim of the complex measurements is to develop research methodologies in order to get more accurate results.

How did you choose the area?

I started and have been continuing at Klaipėda University. I graduated from the bachelor’s degree programme in Ship Machinery and Power Plant Maintenance. The speciality is close to that of a ship mechanic, but, after the studies, it seemed too simple for me. I wanted a more interesting field of studies, therefore, I continued in master’s degree studies, in the programme of Fleet Technical Operations Management. In the first year of studies, I started working as a technical assistant in the then Air Pollution and Ship Research Laboratory which was carrying out a project. I could combine work and studies and to apply the theoretical knowledge to practice. On completing my master’s studies, I became a researcher and started doctoral studies in the field of transport engineering. In the following project, I became a junior researcher, and later, the head of the laboratory.

Please share your plans for the future.

Our first challenge is to learn to use the new equipment. Both our new acquisitions are technologically sophisticated and, to properly launch them, we need to train the staff and to analyse all details and nuances. That is not easy. Another task is active use of the equipment. We are taking care of that: as we have become more or less familiar with the range of its capabilities, we can plan the provision of services and the development of projects. Even though our staff is not large, we have very talented people, therefore, I am sure, in the course of time we shall master all the technological subtleties.

Interviewer: Aistė Stalmokaitė