'Solar sails' for cargo ships

Could photovoltaic sails steer huge vessels into big energy savings? A Japanese company aims to find out.

Turanor PlanetSolar , the world’s largest boat to cruise the seas on 100% sun power, just made its way through the China Sea. To the northeast in Japan, however, a different take on solar-powered sea travel is in the works, one focused on even bigger boats. Fukuoka-based company Eco Marine Power is developing a way to bring solar power and the old nautical standby wind power to tankers, cargo ships and other sea-faring vessels.

Container ships are huge fuel guzzlers, issuing over 90 percent of global trade from port to port, continent to continent, sea to sea. In 2007, the shipping industry emitted 847 million tons of carbon dioxide. The amount was almost 3 percent of human-made CO2 emissions that year, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Supplementing a vessel’s fossil fuel load with energy harnessed during sun-drenched and windswept days on the open ocean could help steer ships to better efficiency.

The patent-pending Aquarius System customizes portable arrays of rigid “solar sails.” While still being designed, these vertical photovoltaic panels are meant to take on double duty, converting sunlight into electricity and serving as sails. The solar power could benefit on-board electric systems and batteries. And the wind power? Well, just how much the wind in these sails might push huge, heavy ships along Eco Marine Power doesn’t say. But they could help reduce drag when wind directions are unfavorable. The photovoltaic sails can also be set down flat while they continue to get some rays. Kei Systems out of Osaka is currently designing a computer system that will control the panels.

Eco Marine Power was a Sustainable Shipping Award finalist for the 2011's greenest shipping initiative earlier this summer. The winner was Green Marine, an organization implementing environmental practices within North America's marine industry.

In July, the IMO adopted pollution standards for new ships heavier than 400 tons. They must lower CO2 emissions by 10 percent before 2019. Five years later, the mandatory emissions cuts rise to 30 percent. But new ships don't get to have all the emissions-slashing fun. Eco Marine Power says the Aquarius System would work great as retrofits, too.

Still testing must be done. If all goes well with their prototype Aquarius in 2012, the company expects commercial deployment just in time for 2013.

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Images: Eco Marine Power

Via: Discovery

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com