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The invisible winds have long enabled ships to cross vast seas, but it just can't match fuel for speed and power when you're trying to move tons of freight from continent to continent. Now, Eco Marine Power says it's time to turn back the clock. Well, sort of.

You see, Eco Marine Power has developed rigid sails that can be installed on a ship's deck. Called Aquarius, these sails, at least in theory, could harness wind power for motivation, taking us party back to the days of yore (it is a tried and true idea). Eco Marine Power's sails are not made of cotton, nylon or even kevlar. Nope, these sails are rigid solar panels, so they can harness the energy of the sun to power the vessel's various on-board systems while they also get a wind boost.

Of course, as with most potentially groundbreaking technologies, Eco Marine Power has some hurdles to overcome. For example, the sails take up space on most of the ship's deck, leaving almost no room for shipping containers. This doesn't mean the idea should be scrapped, however: we think this technology could be employed on vessels that don't transport materials topside, something ironic like oil tanker?


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  • 18 Comments
      Spec
      • 4 Months Ago
      Well I don't think they'll be building any new tankers any time soon. . . . so . . .
      squngy
      • 4 Months Ago
      Am I the only one who pictured those "sails" spinning like some sort of wind mill to generate electricity? It would solve the sun direction problem (equally bad from all sides FTW).
      Doug
      • 4 Months Ago
      This makes much more sense: http://www.skysails.info/english/skysails-marine/skysails-propulsion-for-cargo-ships/advantages/
        BipDBo
        • 4 Months Ago
        @Doug
        Now, that is a good idea. Parafoil sails are very powerful and very efficient. Best of all, that launch and retrieval system is brilliant and should make the system pretty safe. If a storm came up very quickly, the worst case scenario would be to just cut the kite loose. That's a lot easier than taking a sail down off of a mast. The only problem is that once parafoil kites hit the water, they don't relaunch too easily. Fortunately, in that case, i think that the retrival system, could pull it in pretty quickly before it gets full of water. Besides, kites are just cool lately.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 4 Months Ago
      they can put huge windmills on ships. but come to think of it the best solution is perhaps to make synthetic fuel on land with green electricity and burn it in the ship engines. those engines can be over 50% efficient which is pretty good. that would be perfectly green basically and acceptable efficiency for a difficult application. the right synthetic fuel burns very cleanly so as to avoid smog as well
      • 4 Months Ago
      Just for the record, the concept of using rigid sails on ships was tested in Japan in the 1970's and 1980's and it was shown to reduce fuel consumption by more than 10%. Also the rigid sails shown in the drawing are just an early impression of how they might look, the design project is still in progress. Finally, the aim is not to try and turn a large ship into a yacht, it is to tap into the power of the sun and wind to reduce fuel consumption.
      Kevin Gregerson
      • 4 Months Ago
      On the water, I think I'd change the tracking algorithms for solar panels or use some sort of mirror to take advantage of the reflections on the water.
      goodoldgorr
      • 4 Months Ago
      I said to do green algae farming or methanol with the co2 output of these big chimneys.
      BipDBo
      • 4 Months Ago
      Please don't subsidize this BS. Solar cells need to point perpindicular to the sun to be optimized. The electrical output will be roughly proportunal to the cosine of the angle between the sun's rays and the plane of the cells. A small deviation from perpidicular is OK, but a large deviation kills output. That means that they will be closer to horizontal than vertical. Horizontal surfaces make lousy sails. Sails need to be in the vertical and be trimmed at a specific angle to create forward force, an angle that is very unlikely to correspond to the angle of the sun. This is especially true at speeds of around 20 knots where the only way take advantage of the wind is by sailing across the wind (reaching), because when traveling with the wind, apparent the wind speed drops to zero. Also, a flat bank of cells would make a lousy sail. Sails need to be curved.
        paulwesterberg
        • 4 Months Ago
        @BipDBo
        Sails do not need to be curved, although they have been traditionally. Recently many speed sailing records have been set using rigid wingsails made with new high tech materials. Rigid sailing yacht Yellow Pages Endeavour held the world speed record from 1993-2004(53.5 mph) https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Yellow_Pages_Endeavour Macquarie Innovation's 2009 rigid yacht goes 57.5 mph http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tvTaQY-veA Rigid sail land yacht 126mph: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRFRQXPtXTs&feature=related
          BipDBo
          • 4 Months Ago
          @paulwesterberg
          Sorry, but you're just not correct. I'll state my credentials as an avid sailor and engineer who has done a lot of research in foil aerodynamics. A flat airfoil will generate lift, but very poorly. The yellow pages endeavor featured an assymetric foil, not a flat foil. Like an airplane wing, the positive pressure side was close to flat, whereas the low pressure side is curved, creating a curved camber line (center line). Not only is it assyemtric about the two sides of the foil, but it is also assymetric between the leading and trailing edges. The leading edge is rounded and has greater camber curve whereas the trailing edge is tapered with no camber curve. It was designed to sail only on one tack (direction). Rigid sales like those seen on modern America's cup vessels have hinges, so that the camber line curves, enabling itto be used on both tacks. A symetric foil, like that seen on a stunt airplane or windsurfing fin can create lift more efficiently than a flat plank, but less efficiently than an asymetric foil. Symetric foils would not be practical for a large sail, because by nature, they have a very low angle of attack at which they stall, and therefore really only are good for applications of very high speed at small angle of attack and where lift is needed on both directions.
      fred schumacher
      • 4 Months Ago
      If the system is as shown in the drawing, then it's next to useless. A large container ship requires about 150,000 horsepower. Wind, at 20 mph, produces one horsepower on 25 square feet of sail area; solar would produce about one-third hp over the same area. The size of the sail/collectors shown is just not going to cut it for power needed. And that's not even taking into account the poor shape of the sails for creating forward motion.
        Ryan
        • 4 Months Ago
        @fred schumacher
        For some reason, very large and heavy wooden ships used sails successfully for hundreds of years. I'm thinking some of your numbers might be off. But, I agree that the 'sails' in the picture won't do much for that container/tanker ship. Put them on smaller boats, and they might work.
          BipDBo
          • 4 Months Ago
          @Ryan
          Those ships were much smaller than modern cargo ships, could carry proportionally less weight in cargo due to the need of greater righting moment, traveled at a fraction of the average speed, were depenent upon following seasonal trade winds, were very vulnerable to storms due to the high rigging, and required large crews. A fully sailing cargo ship could not even come close to a good business model when compared to an oil burning vessel.
      • 4 Months Ago
      An excellent piece of subsidy-engineering. The current cargo ships with solar, where the solar panels are arranged optimally, have been a real disappointment, giving even less power on average than the tiny amounts hoped for. These engineering genius's are going to use the panels so that they have to be oriented to the wind, regardless of where the sun is. Another clue to how sensible this is is that we moved on from sail ships, which were a great deal better designed to use the wind efficiently than this joke. The name of the first ship to use this is likely to be 'Gimme a Government Grant - or we are sunk'
        • 4 Months Ago
        Perhaps you could look at what was actually achieved by the sea trials of rigid sails in Japan a few decades ago. You might also want to look at what NYK is doing with solar power on their ships...it's still early days but no doubt improvements will be made to their design. Finally where does it say the sails have to be orientated to suit the wind only? Then again you might be right, but I heard the same sort of comments about Japanese car technology once :)
        EVnerdGene
        • 4 Months Ago
        hey they're printing money for stupid - let's get in line
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