Anglo Belgian Corporation – Powered by Alternative Solutions

Having been a diesel engine specialist for decades, Belgian ABC Engines is shifting its focus to alternative fuels to be ready for the future.

Anglo Belgian Corporation (ABC) located in Gent, Belgium, is a leading European manufacturer of medium-speed engines in the power range between 600 and 10,500 kW. Established in 1912, the company is still family-owned and has profiled itself as a true European manufacturer, with 80% of the components designed and made in-house. A clear competitive advantage that ensures that quality and lead times are fully under control, says Sales Manager Jean-Christophe Van Acker.

“Almost all of our components are sourced in Europe. By being vertically integrated throughout the value chain we manage to stay ahead in the severely competitive global market.”

The company designs and manufactures medium-speed, four stroke diesel engines for marine, traction and power generation applications, and for turnkey power plants around the world. All products are project-specific, custom-made to suit the individual customer’s requirements.

The marine sector continues to be the dominant market, accounting for 60%-70% of total output, followed by power generation (25%-30%) and traction (10%). A growing installed base provides references in more than 120 countries, supported by factory-certified service technicians available all over the world.

Expert in niche markets

“Our core business is medium-speed diesel engines for heavy-duty, reliable, continuous use,” says Jean-Christophe Van Acker. “This is our speciality, and over the years, the company has demonstrated market-leading expertise in developing and commercializing these engines in an international environment, with over 90% of its products being exported. We are not the biggest player but we serve world-class customers.”

ABC’s engines are built to deliver outstanding performance under the toughest and most demanding conditions at sea. The characteristic medium speed and cleverly engineered distribution of loads ensure low mechanical deterioration and long life for the engine and its components.

The total cost of ownership (TCO) of medium-speed engines easily outperforms high-speed engines. This is due to the low fuel and lube oil consumption, the lower frequency of maintenance interventions and the general robustness of the medium-speed engine. The benefit is a much lower operating cost.

The company’s single production facility in Belgium employs around 290 people including a strong R&D department, committed to developing more efficient engines which deliver more power and use less fuel while significantly reducing emissions. Recently, ABC introduced its hybrid solutions, offering a flexible range of propulsion and power generation solutions.

Mr Van Acker affirms that the R&D’s efforts are focused in two directions – expanding the portfolio by introducing a new range of engines of up to 10.5 MW in response to clients’ new requirements; and investigating alternative fuels.

“We are a diesel engine manufacturer but we also make dual-fuel engines – gas & diesel and now moving to hydrogen & diesel solutions, tailor-made to suit the individual customer’s needs. Just recently, our R&D department has also started to study methanol.”

Fuelled by green energy

ABC has already made an impressive mark in the alternative fuel segment. In September, the first hydrogen-powered dual-fuel engine with a capacity of 1 megawatt was launched by BeHydro, ABC’s joint venture with CMB, the Antwerp-based shipping company.

The engine runs on a much higher proportion of hydrogen than that previously achieved: up to 85%, with the rest standard marine gasoil. This opens up a faster and cheaper decarbonisation pathway for the shipping sector and dovetails with the EU Green Deal strategy that prioritises green hydrogen. Larger engines of up to 10.5 MW can also be produced using this technology.

BeHydro has already received its first order for 2 x 2-MW dual-fuel engines that will be installed on board the HydroTug – the very first hydrogen tugboat in the world, to be deployed by the Port of Antwerp.

In the first phase, the company says it can produce 100 hydrogen-powered engines per year. In addition, BeHydro is developing a mono-fuel hydrogen engine that will be ready by the second quarter of 2021.

“Alternative fuels are ready to take off as shipping companies will be forced to comply with increasingly strict emission regulations. Covid-19 has slowed down the push for green energy but we want to be ready when demand for multiple-fuel solutions increases. The potential is significant – the shipping industry is not homogeneous and different types of vessels will require different power solutions,” remarks Mr Van Acker.

Engines of the future

Speaking of the worrying market developments, Mr Van Acker affirms that although Covid-19 has reduced their workload, the company received a record number of orders at the beginning of 2020 so this year’s overall turnover will not be significantly affected.

“We are working on long-term projects so in March they were running already and had to continue. Still, we are a company operating globally and the travel restrictions have of course affected our dealings with customers. Most of our output is exported, we need to fly, we can’t just stand still and wait, not every contact can be replaced by a video call.”

One thing that the company can safely rely on during crisis times is its committed, high-calibre staff. Being the only engine manufacturer far and wide, as well as a local, financially strong company investing in local business development, has made the company an attractive employer for both technical designers and engineers. Unlike many of its European peers, shortage of talent has not been an issue for ABC and is a factor that has, over the years, contributed to the excellent reputation the company has been enjoying worldwide, prompting further expansion, affirms Mr Van Acker.

“We have just almost doubled the size of our premises and have been building a new production hall to be completed in 2021. Expansion is very much on our agenda, and alternative fuels are part of that thinking. We want to position ourselves as a maker of the engines of the future, and to direct the investment, as well as the R&D efforts, to that end.”

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