New England Company Receives U.S. Funds To Investigate Giant Sphere As Offshore Oil Terminal

The U.S. Government is assisting an industry-sponsored program to study and test models of ocean platforms shaped like giant concrete bubbles, each capable of holding enough fuel for 500,000 cars on a crosscountry trip.

These unique vessels, called Tuned Spheres, will be located 15 to 40 miles off the U.S.

coastline to serve as deepwater terminals for the biggest supertankers afloat. At present, no U.S. port can accommodate these supertankers.

This means that imported crude oil now must be unloaded from supertankers in deepwater Caribbean and Canadian ports, and then transshipped to the United States, using small tankers. Transshipping is said to cost gasoline and heating oil users in this country an additional $1 billion annually, which contributes to unfavorable U.S. balance of trade.

For this key reason, Tuned Sphere International, Inc., One Pine Street, Nashua, N.H., was awarded a grant by the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) to test the feasibility of Tuned Spheres in the role of offshore terminal facilities. Tuned Sphere International, headquartered in Nashua, N.H., is a subsidiary of Energy Systems Corporation, the parent organization that employs recondite technology to create advanced products for industry and people.

Federal grants totaling more than $200,000 will be used to demonstrate Tuned Sphere stability under the roughest sea conditions.

Model-test monies also complement contracts received in the past six months from ERDA and Lockheed Missiles and Space Company to investigate feasibility of the Tuned Sphere as the platform for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion powerplants under development by ERDA. These powerplants will convert temperature differences in ocean currents into electric power, or will manufacture at sea, useful products such as anhydrous ammonia fertilizers.

Interest in Tuned Spheres, according to Kenneth E. Mayo, president of Energy Systems, is being spurred by a highly favorable National Bureau of Standards technical review completed last May.

George P. Lewett, a National Bureau of Standards (NBS) official, finds Tuned Spheres "technically valid and worthy of consideration for appropriate government support." Tuned Spheres, reports NBS, "offer improved stability over the full range of weather conditions encountered on open oceans for unloading, storing, and pumping petroleum; for oil-well drilling, and as a platform for ocean-based wind, geothermal, or other powerplants." The National Bureau of Standards report notes that the Tuned Sphere's unusual shape "provides greater strength and distributes forces due to wave action." Stability of the sphere in heavy seas is made possible, the report adds, "by locating the center of mass well below the center of buoyancy. This may be changed by pumping water ballast from one tank to another." "Symmetry of Tuned Spheres eliminates pitch . . . and yaw." Neither does the oversized ball heave much in the water. "This is reduced," the report says, "by means of a large quiescent pool of water located inside the sphere. This pool is open at the bottom so that its level is adjusted automatically to average wave heights." With the forces of natural hazards and waves effectively countered, Tuned Spheres are expected to give stability over the full range of open ocean conditions, superior to that of any other vessel design.

Designed as bulk petroleum terminals, Tuned Spheres will have a 380-foot diameter to permit storage capacity of four million barrels of crude. Stored crude oil is pumped to shore via at-sea terminus of a subsea crude pipeline. Receiving facilities may be located as much as 25 miles inland.

In sum, the National Bureau of Standards says Tuned Spheres will (1) improve safety of vessels, hence personnel, (2) reduce transportation cost of oil, (3) reduce danger of oil spills, and (4) improve productivity during bad weather and sea condition.

The report also concludes that Tuned Spheres may assist relief of the nation's energy problems, because they "enhance production in offshore drilling . . . and as offshore terminals for receiving imported crude oil and petroleum products at a decrease in import costs." Charles R. Fink, vice president for operations of Tuned Sphere International, notes that "The potential $l-billion transportation cost savings to derive from Tuned Sphere deepwater terminals more than offset the cost increase which will result if legislation to require import of up to 10 percent of foreign crude in U.S.-flag vessels is passed by the Congress."

Other stories from November 15, 1977 issue


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