Sailing ships once carried much of the world’s cargo across the seas, until canvas sheets were replaced by low-grade “bunker” oil. Now it appears that wind power is about to make a comeback, in the form of rigid “sails” that double as solar panels. The patent-pending technology, called the Aquarius Solar and Wind Marine Power System, is being developed by a company called Eco Marine Power. The dream of a high tech, sustainable energy cargo ship has been percolating for a number of years now, but it hasn’t caught on in a big way, so let’s see if this new system is The One.
Wind Power for Cargo Ships
At first blush, wind power for today’s ultra-huge cargo ships looks like a nice idea, but just not possible. The scale alone makes it seem impractical. However, that hasn’t stopped anyone from trying. In recent years a German company has come up with a parachute-like design for cargo ships that includes sails the size of football fields, and a British company has developed a more traditionally styled, rigging-free sail system for smaller cargo ships.
Wind and Solar Sails
Eco Marine’s solution is a bit of a twofer. Instead of flexible fabric sails it uses an array of rigid “sail panels” that double as solar collectors. The incorporation of solar technology means that the ship can continue to harvest energy while in berth. If the technology proves itself, that gives rise to the potential for berthed cargo ships to contribute energy to the land grid, helping to cut down on the use of fossil fuels at ports. Aside from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, this fits in with the U.S. EPA’s new focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants in coastal regions. Eco Marine expects a prototype to be tested early in 2012, so stay tuned.