Cargo ship with solar panels could help cut use of world’s dirtiest fuels

New EnergySail technology adds solar panels to cargo ships along with an automated rigid wing sail in a system to cut the shipping industry’s CO2 emissions.

The bunker fuel used in ocean going cargo ships is pretty well the dirtiest on the planet. And each one uses a lot of it, nearly 289 million tons a year according to the U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyDuke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, quoting an analysis by Chris Wade in an ENFOS article, says “only 15 cargo ships can produce the same amount of pollution as all of the cars in the world (our emphasis).“

Now Japan’s Eco Marine Power (EMP) has signed a patent license agreement with Teramoto Iron Works to bring to life their EnergySail, enabling ships to use solar and wind energy at the same time. The EMP automated rigid sails assist in propelling a ship and can also be fitted with flexible marine-grade solar panels. These provide electrical power fed into a ship’s power system (which is currently run by the engines) or charge batteries.

solar panels on the hull of a large catamaran, the Energy Observer

A related type of rigid wing sail is also used in the Energy Observer research ship that circumnavigating the globe with zero emissions. The EO is powered by a combination of wing sails, solar panels, regenerating turbines and hydrogen extracted with electrolysis from the ocean water the boat travels through.

Teramoto’s experience in the production of rigid sails goes back to JAMDA sails in Japan in the 1980’s which in turn led to them being chosen to manufacture the first production version of EMP’s EnergySail in 2016. This latest agreement with EMP paves the way for full commercial production once sea trials have been completed.

Feasibility study underway

Last year a feasibility study was conducted with ship owner Hisafuku Kisen K.K. of Onomichi, Japan involving several large bulk carriers. For each ship the propulsive power provided by an EnergySailarray was measured along with the total amount of solar power that could be installed on each type of vessel.

futurism reports that “once the testing is over, one ship from the fleet will be chosen for a 12 to 18 month trial. The selected ship will be fitted with an array of EnergySails, solar panels on deck, and the hardware necessary to monitor and control every part of the system.”

The final optimized version is expected to be ready in 2019. Greg Atkinson, EMP’s Director & Chief Technology Officer said ”We believe this will pave the way towards the widespread adoption of renewable energy on ships.”

Anything that can be done to reduce the emissions from ocean going ships is by its very nature a good thing. This is a major step forward to a more sustainable future for shipping and is expected to result in the wider deployment of EMP’s solutions on ships ranging from coastal cargo vessels to bulk ore carriers and cruise ships.

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a luxury 64' yacht seen from above with solar panels on its roof

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