Ships look at past tech to help reduce carbon emissions at sea

As the world grapples with an unfolding climate crisis that requires the immediate reduction of carbon emissions, ships are working to do their part by looking at past technology that could make sailing the seven seas a much cleaner mode of transportation.

Ships currently account for about 3 percent of carbon emissions, so other modes of transportation such as airplanes and cars are definitely dirtier and need to transition to cleaner technology such as battery and electric power if we really want to put a significant dent into the amount of carbon being produced.

But every little bit helps, and ships are determined to do something to reduce their carbon footprint, even if it means taking a new look at technology known as rotor sails invented by German engineer Anton Flettner in 1925.

Flettner installed his rotors within two giant cylinders on the deck of a ship, resulting in the vessel doubling its top speed.

According to EcoWatch:

Flettner used those cylinders — called rotor sails — to power his ship, harnessing the same source that first drove vessels through the sea hundreds of years earlier when they began sailing: the wind. At the time, his invention couldn’t compete with steam, coal and, ultimately, the modern diesel engine. But today, as the world copes with climate change, the shipping industry — indeed, the entire world transportation sector — must find ways to wean itself from fossil fuels and transition to cleaner energy. Among these efforts, Flettner’s old idea has gained new traction.

Now ships are considering using this same technology. While it may not completely take the place of fossil fuels at the moment, it could at least result in using less fossil fuels by letting the wind and the rotors do some of the work.

“Who would have thought that centuries later we would be taking a hard look at how to harness the power of the wind to power ships?” International Council on Clean Transportation senior researcher Bryan Comer said. “In the beginning, all ships were zero emission, using human power — oars — or wind. Now, in an effort to reduce costs and environmental impacts, we’re starting to see innovative uses of wind power, including rotor sails. It seems we have come full circle.”

Comer authored a study examining how much fuel ships could save by using the rotors along with hull air lubrication, which utilizes a blower to pump air bubbles under the ship to reduce drag.

According to the study:

In all cases, rotor sails reduced route-level fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, and carbon intensity; savings ranged between approximately 1% and 47% (about 1% to 12% per rotor), and the magnitude depended on the type of ship, route, and associated weather conditions. Hull air lubrication yielded savings of between 3% and 13%; the potential for fuel savings and emissions reduction depends mainly on draught and ship speed. Hull air lubrication performance is less sensitive to geography and provides more consistent fuel savings.

In short, using this technology could spell huge savings for the shipping industry and help protect the planet at the same time.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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