Fossil fuel transport today is up against a grim carbon reality: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
Winds of change, especially triggered by new international commerce and climate pacts and policies, could soon push us rapidly beyond carbon into a new age of sail, with the need for a planet-wide cargo fleet rebuilt from the keel up, says in article published on science wire website.
Problem with today’s vessel
Annual surge of atmospheric carbon released by ocean going ships not only worsens climate change but it also contributes to ocean acidification which is beginning to seriously impact biodiversity.
Another problem with today’s vessels: when cargo ships dock, they use auxiliary engines that generate SOx, NOx, CO2 and particulate discharges, while also creating noxious noise and vibrations.
The current sea cargo system — reliant upon high-priced carbon-based fuels and unstable energy markets; interwoven inextricably into long-distance, globalised world trade; and designed for just-in-time delivery that requires precisely scheduled shipments — is increasingly vulnerable to the vagaries of fossil fuel shortages, price shocks and surges, as well as geopolitical conflict and volatility in the Middle East, Venezuela and elsewhere.
Old technologies made new
Change is happening now — fast — as sailing vessels get put on the water by startup companies, like fair transport, with its retrofit wooden vessels; by modest sized proof-of-concept companies like the schooner apollonia; and by firms with newly built ocean-crossing sailing ships like grain de sail; and lastly by large cargo ship companies launching innovative retrofits and purpose-built vessels like neoline’s new large cargo vessels.
All of these innovators embrace different technological approaches to address the same problems of CO2 emissions, the high cost of fossil fuels, and new global economic and regulatory realities.
Wind propulsion systems cover a wide spectrum in modern commercial shipping. These range from wind-assisted fossil-fuelled vessels (where wind provides auxiliary power), to purely wind-driven ships without auxiliary power, to sailing-hybrid ships where the primary propulsion come from the wind but is augmented by engines to ensure schedules are maintained.
High tech innovations
The most unique innovations in the cargo shipping sector today are sails that look less and less like traditional sails. Known as sail-assisted or wind-assisted propulsion devices, the concept often is to fit existing fossil-fuelled vessels with a variety of new sail technologies that offer a boost in power while cutting carbon emissions.
These cutting-edge approaches include wing sails, which are inflatable; “hard sails” which look like an airplane wing set up vertically; “flettner” vertical rotor sails that resemble smokestacks (but which use the magnus effect, a force acting on a spinning body in a moving airstream).
The new ideas are seemingly endless: hemp and other cellulose-based plastics can replace fiberglass and other synthetic hull and sail materials; ships will ride above the waves on hydrofoils, maybe replacing airline high-speed passenger service; and many more small river, estuary and ocean ports will be renovated and updated to create an “internet” of coastal and island-linked small- to mid-sized shipping lanes.
A gathering of new technology companies, ship builders, and shippers of all sizes who are changing the face of ocean shipping, replacing smoky fossil-fuelled “dinosaurs” with nimble, “back to the future” sailing, sail assist, solar, electric and alternative fuel vessels.
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Source: science.the wire