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Shipping: Riding waves to a greener, more sustainable industry

Saturday, 11 February 2012 | 00:00
Although around 90% of world trade is carried by the international shipping industry, only 3% of world emissions of greenhouse gases does the maritime transport account for.
However, like the aviation industry, it does not have any targeted curbs on this pollution, an omission that green campaigners are fighting to change. A recent attempt by the EU to include the aviation industry in its Emissions Trading System has sparked a global 'dogfight' which include the US, China, Russia, India and Brazil.
Nevertheless, it has yet to be seen whether a similar reaction would permeate if the shipping industry would be ushered into a scheme like the ETS. However, signs show that the industry is reacting positively to talks and negotiations, and is generally willing to reduce its overall carbon emissions. At the United Nations Durban Climate Change Conference, the global shipping industry took a definitive stance and joined with international nonprofit organizations to recommend that governments give the International Maritime Organization clear guidance on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from commercial shipping.
Although this is a positive step forward in the push to bind the industry to reduce its carbon footprint in the fight against climate change, perhaps more emphasis should be put on slowly eradicating the old ships and put on energy efficient design standards for newly built ships. This may be the only way to get the industry on board.
Nevertheless, there are movements paving the way for focusing on the future of the shipping industry by looking at new ships rather than the existing ones. The International Maritime Organisation has already established international standards for energy efficient designs of new ships. Additionally, the Forum for the Future, which works with industry groups and government on sustainability, established the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI). The SSI is a collaboration of NGOs and shipping-related companies working for the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of the industry.
Recently, the SSI presented its vision for making the industry a more sustainable one by 2040. It pinpointed to four action areas, called ‘work streams’, which are: financing for new technology, reducing the life-cycle impact of ships, creating common standards for sustainable performance and promoting new innovations that will help transform the industry.
All four areas have seen major leaps in the last few years, but the fourth one - promoting new innovations – has been seen as the key to truly transform the industry and set it on a sustainable path.
Solar power
Solar sail technology has been introduced to the shipping industry and has been the leading area for investment as it is seen as the most viable way to make the industry energy efficient. There have been many ideas and prototypes that show the innovative way of tackling the problem.
For example, a Japanese company has come up with the concept of a solar sails propulsion system whereby giant solar panels are installed on ships. The company, Eco Marine Power Co. Ltd has called the technology the Aquarius Solar and Wind Power System.
The system utilises the latest solar energy technology and computer systems, as well as several rows of solar sails that are installed on the deck of the vessel, positioned in such a way so as to make the most of the sun and wind energy. A prototype of the Aquarius solar sail system should be ready for sea trials by 2012. This system could pave a greener path for the shipping industry.
Another example, but on a smaller scale, was launched by SolarLab in 2006. The Serpentine solar shuttle is entirely sun-powered, can carry 42 passengers, and has been operating on Lake Serpentine in the UK. SolarLab has another in its portfolio, the Constance, a solar shuttle operating on lake Constance, near the border between Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It carries up to 60 passengers at speeds of 15 kph.
Wave energy
The most interesting and logical, yet probably the most difficult to build and be effectively used, technology is wave-energy. This is the usage of wave action to produce energy.
This technology would be latched on to the ship generating energy while being mobile with the ship. The recent unveiling of this technology revealed 50-metre-long ships that would harvest wave energy via buoys attached to their sides by pivoting arms. While the hull remains relatively stable, the buoys would bob up and down on the waves, causing the arms to pivot back and forth and drive a generator producing up to 1 megawatt of electrical power. The batteries are planned to have a capacity of 20 megawatt-hours, so the ships would have to stay at sea for at least 20 hours for a full charge. Once their batteries were fully charged they would return to shore and feed the electricity into the grid.
However, the next step for this technology would be to utilise the energy on the ship to make the ship more energy efficient with its emissions. Nevertheless, by producing this energy and feeding it into the grid, at least the industry is contributing to reducing our insatiable appetite for fossil fuel based energies, and this has long term potential.
Historically, the shipping industry has been criticised for its lack of willingness to be a part of the solution to the energy problem contributing to climate change. However, this is slowly changing as rising costs have forced it to look for alternatives, which would simultaneously help the fight in global warming. Just like our ancestors used the wind to steer their way to new shores, we are looking to abundant renewable sources to keep us going.
Source: New Europe
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