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Solar Advancements in Green Shipping Technology

Solar technology is so exciting that it’s hard not to think of all the wonderful things we can use it for. In 1999, an Australian company called Solar Sailor began work on solar- and wind-powered ferry ships. The ships use hybrid sails that are rigid and movable, allowing for the panels to be positioned to face the sun and catch the wind. The solar panels are also flexible, allowing for maximum exposure to the sun. Sadly, ferries are not the primary seafaring polluters. Those are tankers and freighters, which account for 80 percent of the world’s trade. Currently, there are four Solar Sailor ferries in Hong Kong’s waters, though plans to bring them to Shanghai and San Francisco are in the works.

Why Green Shipping?

For one, oil is at $79 a barrel. When Solar Sailor began in 1999, it was closer to $10 and the company would have been considered “out there” by many.

Number two is that ocean vessels burn low-grade fuel that releases sulphur dioxide, among other pollutants into the atmosphere. Allowing the ships to sail at slower speeds could reduce this without forcing companies into massive changes (i.e. new ship designs, engine upgrades, etc.). By 2020, more sulfur dioxide will be produced by ocean vessels than is emitted by the landlubbers.

Finally and most importantly, shipping pollution causes an estimated 60,000 premature deaths per year. That number is expected to rise to 87,000 by 2012.

How Can Solar Help?

Besides Solar Sailor’s ferries, there is only one solar-assisted tanker in operation today, a member of the NYK shipping line. However, China’s main shipping company, Cosco, is in “advanced talks” with Solar Sailor to add solar wings to its ships.

Other notable shipping improvements come from the world’s largest shipping company, Maersk, which has developed double-hulled ships to reduce the chances of oil spillage in tankers. There are also more energy efficient designs underway for future ships. But mostly, Maersk’s Director of Sustainability stressed that it’s how the ships are used that contributes to the pollution. Taking the foot off the gas saves not only fuel, but operating costs, like maintenance. Maersk is also working on carbon reductions and has set clearly defined progress goals, one of the first plans of its kind in the shipping industry.

Shipping green will likely be a pipe dream for years to come, since most shipping pollution occurs in international waters and doesn’t register on the home country’s climate report. That makes it hard to pinpoint and level the barrel at any one specific problem. However, with the world moving toward a global community, the middle-of-nowhere section of ocean is becoming your charge and mine. We’ll figure something out.

Source: CNN.com

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