CASTINE, Maine — The Maine Maritime Academy has been awarded a $1.4 million research grant to study and develop environmentally savvy fuel for commercial ships.

The grant, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, will fund MMA’s efforts to build a Marine Engine Testing and Emissions Laboratory, where researchers will study how to make more efficient fuel that emits fewer toxins into the air for commercial fishing and shipping vessels.

The laboratory will be housed in MMA’s ABS Center for Engineering, Science and Research, construction of which is expected to begin in the spring and be ready for use in the fall of 2015.

Projects that take place in the new laboratory will be integrated into the studies of MMA students in the school’s engineering, transportation and business programs.

“Maine Maritime Academy’s engineering and transportation education programs are addressing critical workforce needs,” said MMA president William Brennan in a press release. “Our specialized programs, combined with our fully capable working waterfront, make it possible for students to be involved in hands-on research in these new technologies that have potential for worldwide impact to the marine transportation sector.”

Research in the new laboratory will focus on helping the marine industry further comply with federal regulations, as well as a set of regulations adopted at the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, which was held in 1973 with the aim of reducing ocean pollution.

Large commercial ships burn a lot of fuel, so they have a big impact on the world’s emissions, said Richard Kimball, a professor of marine engineering at MMA, who is heading up the research efforts at the Marine Engine Testing and Emissions Laboratory.

“Building new ships would put a lot of companies out of business,” he said. Most ships made for commercial shipping companies are meant to last 30 to 40 years.

“We’re focused on helping existing ships to meet those requirements,” he said.

One way to do that, he said, is to develop new fuels and fuel blends that incorporate biofuel.

“These regulations, especially in coastal and inland waterways, are difficult to meet with existing marine engines,” said Robert Peacock II, chair of MMA’s board of trustees, in the press release. “Solutions are needed for Maine’s commercial fishing and shipping vessels to meet these standards. Our researchers, faculty, students and partners from UMaine and commercial companies will work together to help Maine’s marine industries meet these standards.”

Research in this field has already begun at MMA, in collaboration with the University of Maine at Orono, Sea Change Group LLC, Global Marine Solutions and Thermoelectric Power Systems LLC.

This grant will give MMA the capital it needs to invest in equipment for testing emissions from diesel engines on and off shore. It is a two-year grant, so if all goes well, MMA will receive additional funds from the Department of Transportation next year.

The new $14 million classroom and lab facility to be constructed at MMA is the subject of one of the five bond questions on the Nov. 5 statewide ballot. Question 4 asks Maine voters: “Do you favor a $4,500,000 bond issue to provide funds for a public-private partnership for a building project for a new science facility at the Maine Maritime Academy to be matched by other funds?”

MMA was one of 33 schools that conduct research on transportation technology to receive this grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Nell Gluckman

Nell is the education reporter for the Bangor Daily News, but she will be helping out the political team by covering the 2nd Congressional District election this year. Before joining the Bangor Daily News...