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Published September 6, 2008 10:33 AM

Solar Powered System Helps Reduce Ship's Emissions - Innovation on the High Seas

Japan’s largest shipping line, Nippon Yusen KK, has teamed with Nippon Oil Corporation in developing a system of solar panels capable of generating 40 kilowatts of electricity for use on a 60,000 ton cargo ship for Toyota Motor Corporation.

Unlike the solar panels soon to be offered on the tops of the Toyota Priusthat I wrote about last week, these panels are designed to assist with the ship’s motive power.  

Solar panels aren’t new on ocean-going ships, but until now they’ve only been used to power crew cabins and living quarters. This system will help reduce diesel fuel consumption by up to 6.5% and CO2 emissions by 1 or 2%.

That doesn’t seem like much, but in hard numbers and particles of pollution, every little bit helps and you’ve got to start somewhere.

Fill ‘er up

The average cargo ship gets about .008 miles per gallon. Okay, let’s look at it another way; at that rate the ship is burning about 120 gallons of bunker fuel – nasty stuff – per mile.

That means the ship will burn at least 720,000 gallons of fuel carrying all those shiny new Priuses 6000 across the ocean from Japan to the United States. With the new solar power system in place the ship will burn about 46800 gallons less per voyage.

That’s nearly the amount that was spilled into San Francisco bay last year when the pilot drove the Cosco Busan in the Bay Bridge. Thus, the system saves one whole environmental disaster’s worth of fuel.

The point being that no matter how you slice it, making any inroads at all from the pollution caused by shipping is a good thing.

Research from Environmental Science and Technology shows that emissions from shipping are a contributing factor for up to 60,000 deaths worldwide each year. 44% of the sulphate in fine particulate matter along coastal cities comes from ship exhaust.

Cleaning up those ocean breezes

In response to those statistics, California regulators approved the nation’s strictest regulations for reducing emissions from ocean-going ships. Starting in July of 2009, ships coming into California ports will be required to switch to a cleaner burning fuel within 24 miles of shore. These regulations are similar to international rules set to take effect in 2015.

Working to clean up shipping is a good thing, of course, and innovators are hard at work all over the globe making it happen. As we’ve reported previously here in Triple Pundit, the German company SkySails has pioneered a kite sail able to offset up to 20% of a ships fuel consumption (depending on weather and wind conditions) on its prototype MV Beluga Skysail. In Scandinavia, shipbuilder Wallenius Wilhelmsen is working on a ship designed to run on solar, wind, and fuel cell energy.  

Nippon is investing $1.4 million to develop its solar system. The first ship outfitted with solar panels is scheduled for completion in December. Nippon Oil Executive Vice President says he hopes full commercialization of the system will happen within three to five years.

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