Regulation drives innovation – Rolls-Royce sail powered shipping

20130801-080203.jpg Emission control regulations in shipping and in part cost of fuel are driving innovations in alternative shipping solutions – this one from Rolls-Royce is targeting a 55% increase in fuel efficiency.

Smart Planet reports that “International Maritime Organization sulfur caps already require cleaner, pricier grades of fuel. Additionally, ships entering Emission Control Areas were required to reduce to 1 percent sulfur fuel in 2010, and all oceangoing vessels will have to adopt 0.5 percent sulfur by around 2020.”

This requirement will drive shipping companies away from using ‘bunker fuel’, which is basically the last dregs at the bottom of the barrel, to more expensive cleaner fuels similar to what we use in trucks. As regulation drives the use of more expensive fuels to meet emission requirements shipping companies are innovating around alternative methods of providing cheap shipping. Shipping is after all a massive 343 billion Euro a year industry.

Rolls-Royce’s solution takes inspiration from the 1800’s before the invention of steam ships powered by coal when shipping was done by ‘clippers’, the Cutty Sark being one of the more famous clippers.

According to Smart Planet “The sail-powered freighter from Rolls partner B9 Shipping will measure 330 feet long and carry 4,500 tons of freight. It’ll derive primary power from a 180-foot sail, augmented by biomethane engines.
– The sail is hoisted with an automated rig, and mechanically controlled masts rotate to catch available wind.
– The sail and engine could be used together for optimal efficiency: 60 percent of the thrust will come from wind, 40 percent from the engine fueled by biomethane gas (during calm conditions or when maneuvering in port).
– An analysis showed an estimated fuel consumption of 46 percent to 55 percent less than an equivalent conventional ship on the same route.
– Rolls will provide a backup power plant that’s able to burn methane produced from municipal waste.”

Sounds awesome. I can’t wait to see one of these sail into Sydney Harbour. And if Rolls-Royce can raise the $22m they can set it sail within 2 years. On top of that Rolls have estimated a payback of 5 years, which is pretty good considered it should last 30 years.

Just another example of how regulation drives innovation.

And also an example that maybe with the right drivers and forces we can solve some of our environmental problems without greatly compromising our hopes and dreams.

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