Zero emission ferries for Newcastle

Reproduced from the Newcastle Herald, Wednesday 1st Feb.

You may have seen a boat with wings out and about Newcastle Harbour over the last few months. Winner of Australian Design Award of the Year 2001, the SolarSailor ferry with it’s eight solarsails represents a new generation of hybrid-powered passenger transport – green technology for blue highways – that runs on renewables: sun and wind during the day, charging it’s batteries from the grid overnight. This means zero emissions for the people of Newcastle.

The SolarSailor 100 passenger ferry has operated through Captain Cook ferries on Sydney Harbour until recently when the vessel was moved to Newcastle to run charters for the Rocksalt restaurant on Newcastle Marina. The technology and vision for Newcastle has already gained recognition from the public and the business world, as well as support from green groups, the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, the City of Newcastle Council, the solar industry and Newcastle University.

SolarSailor has employed two engineers from Newcastle University, Senior Engineer David Mitchell who has a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Newcastle, and Kel Bolden, a Mechatronics engineer from the University of Newcastle. Both are keen to help SolarSailor develop its world leading hybrid marine power and SolarSails systems to help create a better future for Newcastle.

Also, as a result of collaboration between SolarSailor and Forgacs Defence, they have developed an unmanned ocean vehicle for ocean monitoring and surveillance with a model on display at the Pacific 2012 Maritime Expo 2012 this week.

Winner of the Environmental Technology Award in Sustainable Shipping and the China Seatrade Award, BBC Tomorrow’s World described SolarSailor’s technology as “perhaps the greatest revolution in boats since the advent of steam; a new way to move on the water.” Drawing inspiration from the dual use of insect wings, the technology utilises the two most abundant sources of energy in nature – solar & wind. SolarSailor’s patented technology can harvest wind and solar energy on any vehicle and has developed hybrid marine power (HMP) technology for a variety of applications from small unmanned vessels, to ferries, cruisers and tankers.

Flexibility is the key to the wing design, and depending on weather conditions, these two sources are used simultaneously or singularly. The wings move automatically, tracking the sun for optimal solar collection and the wind for optimal sail power and can be lowered when not needed, for example, in port or for stability in a storm.

As well as having four hybrid ferries in Hong Kong for The Hong Kong Jockey Club, one in Shanghai and developing unmanned ocean vehicles with Forgacs Defence, SolarSailor is currently in negotiations with a large Australian mining company to use the solarsail technology in the building of new ships for mineral exports. This has the potential for savings both with regard to carbon credits and fuel. Current estimates suggest savings in the order of 20-40%.

Few people outside the maritime industry realize how much air pollution comes from the vessels working in port. Richard Branson’s Carbon War room sees shipping emissions as “the elephant in the room,” and has nominated SolarSailor as an example of zero emission, fuel saving technology.

As reported in a 2007 study by Corbett, et al., published in Environmental Science & Technology called ‘Mortality from Ship Emissions: A Global Assessment’ shipping-related emissions are responsible for approximately 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths annually. Over 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon are emitted each year by ships, around three per cent of the global total and greater than all but four countries – China, the US, India and Russia. With an anticipated long-term increase in global trade, the sector’s emissions are expected to double over the coming decades if no action is taken to curb emissions.

SolarSailor’s CEO, Dr Robert Dane predicts that “the future of maritime will be back to the future –with most vessels going back to sails – but solarsails which harness wind and sun energy and use both together. In fifty years time people will look back at the ships of the 20th Century and ask where are the wings?”

Solar Sailor has prepared a submission for the state government to implement a cleaner and greener Stockton ferry service in an effort to further decrease the City’s carbon emissions and energy consumption. This will further enhance Newcastle’s marketability as a green destination as part of Newcastle’s vision and commitment to establish itself as an international testing ground for the application of sustainable technology and practices.

Susan Street


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