A Solar Powered Cargo Ship ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Fast Company has a post on an experiment using solar power to help power a cargo ship carrying Toyota Prius' - Cargo Ship Propelled by Solar Panels Docks in L.A..

Like it or not, we still get most of our goods from overseas. And the cargo ships that transport our products use massive amounts of energy--on average, a 1,000-foot ship carrying 8,000 cargo containers sucks up as much as six megawatts of power, or enough electricity to power 4,000 homes. Now Tokyo-based shipping company NYK Line is trying to cut down on diesel power with the 665 foot long car carrier ship, the M/V Auriga Leader.

The ship has 328 solar panels on its top deck that provide 40 kilowatts of power. The Auriga set sail in Japan last year, but docked at the Port of Long Beach--the second busiest port in the U.S.--for the first time last week. Other ships have put solar panels on cargo ships before, but only to provide auxiliary power. The Auriga's panels will direct power into the main electrical grid to power everything from the ship's thrusters to hydraulics for the steering gear.

NYK hasn't yet made concrete plans to mass produce the Auriga Leader. For the next few years, NYK will conduct field experiments to check the ship's endurance against saltwater damage, wind pressure, constant vibrations, and more. During that time, Toyota will use the ship to transport cars between the U.S. and Japan. NYK has also shown off other carbon-cutting shipping ideas. The NYK Super Eco Ship 2030 concept uses liquified natural gas-powered hydrogen fuel cells to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 69%.

The LA Times notes that the panels only generate a small proportion of the power required to power the ship when docked, let alone to propel it - Solar energy helps to power huge ship at Port of Long Beach (however, combined with something like SkySails at sea, it would still provide a handy improvement in overall fuel efficiency).
The huge car carrier ship called the M/V Auriga Leader idled at the Port of Long Beach, burning through enough electricity to power 100 homes as workers loaded and unloaded a fleet of Toyotas.

But unlike any of the diesel-spewing, power-draining vessels that travel here, the Auriga Leader sports 328 solar panels on its top deck -- a small array that provides 10% of the energy used by the giant ship while she is docked.

The ship -- part of a demonstration project by the Port of Long Beach, Toyota and Tokyo-based shipping company NYK Line -- is the first to use solar energy to help fill all of the vessel's power needs, rather than to run auxiliary lights or serve other small functions.

"This is the first ship to direct the solar power into the ship's main electrical grid," said Brian Mason, national manager of marine logistics and export for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. "It's helping all of the time, and its helping with everything, like the ship's thrusters and the hydraulics for the steering gear."

The practical effect is that the ship is burning less diesel fuel as its engines idle to power the ship's electrical systems. The ship's solar array can generate about 40 kilowatts or about enough power to run 10 average homes.

Gas 2.0 reports that Toyota are considering adding more space-efficient panels to the ship to generate a more useful amount of power - Toyota Tests Solar Power Cargo Ship; It’s Seaworthy.
Toyota’s 60,000-ton, seven story cargo ship can carry more than 6,200 cars at a time and regularly does so, transporting Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles from Toyota Motor Co. factories in Japan to Toyota’s 144-acre spread at this port in Los Angeles.

Normally, the eco-saintly Priuses onboard are heralded into port by the noxious fumes of climate-unfriendly fossils as they slide into the Golden State.

But seven months ago, (Wow. That places this decision right around the time of the financial apocalypse last Fall!) Toyota installed this test array, comprising 328 solar panels, on the top deck as an experiment to see if such a system would work effectively aboard a car carrier. So far, so good, State said, adding that not a single problem had arisen since the panels were installed last December. “She may be the first of her kind,” he said, “for sure, she will not be the last.”

And additionally, now that their attention is on it; electrical engineers at Toyota’s headquarters in Japan have found solar modules that are three times more efficient than the ones used here. (”More efficient” just means it takes less space to make the same power; but, where space is an issue, as on a ship deck, efficiency just means that you can install more power in less space than you could before.)

Taciuc Dorin; the ship’s mechanical engineer said the ship could have been equipped with enough solar to supply a quarter of its demand - a 500 KW solar system. But this initial test installation was more to determine if sea conditions were too dangerous for making their own electricity on board. Even this smaller system and accompanying equipment cost $1.8 million.


Not sure we`ll see ships this size being totally powered by solar. Apart from the current efficiency of the technology there is the safety aspect. Think of large ships bobbing about uncontrollable on the ocean waiting for the sun to shine.

It still a bonus for in-port, where fleets of ships gather, pollution reduction. Just for that all ships should be like this.

I recall an article a few years back about a solar paneled, electric tour boat cruising Sidney Harbor.

Deep water sailing vessels have been using solar panels for auxillary power for some years now. Also solar powered navigation markers, bouys, lights and such, are common.

You could paper that ship with solar power and it could barely make headway at noon on a clear day.

I'm not impressed.

Rukasu   says 10:27 AM

I've been kicking around an idea for some time, using electrolysis to separate oxygen from hydrogen to be used as fuel, via solar power. The road block im at right now is that it requires much more energy to separate the water than the net gain in power. Also, diesel has a much higher energy per weight than hydrogen anyway. Still, I look at an ocean an all i see is limitless power; we just need to figure out how to unlock it.

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