Above is a typical view from the bridge of a trailing suction hopper dredge. I had to visit this dredge, because the operator had problems loading the hopper. As the valuable cargo of sand is always covered beneath a layer of water, they had no idea what the problem exactly was. Although the waterline was dangerously high, the delivered pile of sand on the quay was relatively small. After a couple of dredge cycles, measuring the loading curve and sounding the surface of the sand beneath the water layer, it dawned to me, there were in fact two problems. One, the dredged sediment was much heavier than the hopper density would allow. Two, the distribution in the hopper was not very efficient and on the return trip home, most of the sediment was washed out again. The first problem took some time to convince the owner, but finally the argument came through. The last problem was very difficult to imagine for them and as I had no proof or calculations to show them, they could not visualize the faulty loading process. Luckily, they accepted the proposed modifications and could make some profit again.
Ever since that incident, we were looking for some way to model the hopper loading more credibly with better visual reporting. Simultaneously, this could also improve our design and layout of our hopper dredgers. One of the best models we could use, were those by Van Rhee1, or by Miedema and Vlasblom2. As we have close contact with the Delft University of Technology, we asked them for a graduation project to improve these calculations. Eventually, Ben Sloof applied for the assignment and proposed a very interesting approach to solve this mystery.
Whereas the existing models rely on analytical models with at most a few well defined areas, Ben indicated, that there was also the possibility to address this with a regular CFD solver. He would have to modify the various components to work with particles in the fluid, but he was convinced he could pull it off. As this implies a lot of coding and knowledge of fluid dynamics, this was a tall order and certainly took some time. Now, he is almost ready to graduate. As this is a very interesting topic for everyone, he will take part in the Young CEDA pitch talks3 at the CEDA Dredging Days. His presentation on a ‘Re-engineered model to optimize the settling of material in the hopper’ will certainly be interesting to attend.