Clean sailingMaritime shipping using water, wind and solar
Did you know that maritime shipping is not only the most popular, but also one of the most emission-efficient modes of transportation? Yet it still relies heavily on bunker fuel and other fossil fuels. High time for a change: three ideas for low-emission cargo shipping – using nothing but water, wind and solar. Read More
Ask a sailor what is abundant on the open seas, and water, wind and sunlight are likely to be the answer. Now imagine ships could be powered solely by these three elements, entirely renewable and emission-free. And imagine that this held true even for the big cargo ships transporting food and goods around the globe. Does that sound good to you? Then read on – some creative minds are already putting the idea into practice.
Using hydrogen power to drive ships
Water is always on hand on a boat, so using hydrogen as a more sustainable source of energy seems rather obvious. Companies around the world are looking at hydrogen fuel to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. But storing hydrogen as a liquid is not easy. Producing hydrogen on site is the likely answer – and its feasibility is to be tested from 2022 on: The first hydrogen-powered commercial cargo ship is ready to take off on the Seine River in France. The vessel will move goods on pallets and in containers along the waterway where barges constantly move cargo up- and downstream.
Experts from several European countries have been working together on the flagship project which is basically betting on two technologies that have been installed on board the Seine vessel: electrolysis and hydrogen fuel cells. Electrolysis separates seawater into hydrogen and oxygen, while hydrogen fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to produce electric energy. The only by-product produced is water vapour – which makes the technology especially environmental-friendly.
Time for sustainable power options
“Nearly everything we own and use, has, at some point, spent time as cargo on a container ship, travelling through a vast network of ocean routes and ports that most of us know almost nothing about. Our economy relies on international trade, and international trade relies on ships.” (New Dawn Traders)
Maritime transport is one of the most popular and most fuel-efficient means of transportation: While accounting for more than 90% of global trade, it is responsible for only 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet it still relies almost entirely on bunker fuel and other fossil fuels, and shipping accidents have repeatedly caused huge oil spills.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) therefore set a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050. The pressure is now on for general cargo ships, container ships, tankers, bulk carriers, and coastal trading vessels: Their owners must take concrete action to meet these environmental targets by using renewable and sustainable power options.
Wind and solar power
The idea of using wind to navigate the sea is nothing new: Sails have been used on ships since ancient times. They depend on the wind, which, while always present, sometimes fluctuates. The downside is that sails take up a lot of space, which can limit cargo space. The same holds true for solar energy: Solar panels on ships are primarily used to provide electricity to diesel generators, but they too require considerable space. Wind and solar energy may therefore not be a solution for smaller cargo ships – but they could be ideal for bulk carriers.
Eco Marine Power based in Japan has developed a combined way to harness both wind and sun energy. Their Aquarius Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) energy system incorporates a rigid sail wind propulsion system and a solar panel system with automated controls. The rigid sails have little in common with classic fabric sails though, and look more like huge panels. They are equipped with photovoltaic modules and wind power devices, which a computer system controls automatically: The rigid sails can be turned/rotated or lowered depending on the wind and in poor weather conditions. The probably most special feature is that they can be used even when a ship is at anchor or in port. The system is expensive though, and development is not yet complete.
A cooperative sailing cargo system
Talking about sails: Sophisticated technological inventions do not have to be the only solution for maritime transport. Why not simply go back to the roots, to the good old sailing ships? New Dawn Traders, a voyage coop broker, offers food producers lower energy transport in wind-powered cargo ships.
The cooperative consists of a network of small businesses and pollution-free sailing ships that aim to offer a more human way of trading. All goods can be ordered on the website prior to or during shipping. Marije Passos, an organic olive oil farmer who uses Dawn Traders to ship her oil from Portugal to the UK, the Netherlands and France says: “I think this is what the world needs now. We need to know where our food comes from. The sailors care about our products, and our customers collect the goods at the port of destination. It’s a cooperative process that works well for us.”