Are Hybrid Solar Ferries The Answer? [INTERVIEW]

Reducing fossil fuel use and noxious gas emissions over the next five to 10 years is absolutely essential if we are to avoid the worst consequences of global climate change. There are millions of cars and trucks on the road today, and along with the emissions produce by simply extracting coal, oil, and gas from the Earth, the carry most of the blame for high air pollution levels. It’s easy to blame cars and trucks because they’re right there, driving past our homes and businesses, leeching visible toxins into the air. But what about the vehicles we don’t see on a daily basis?

Every country in the world exports or imports something. And most of these goods don’t travel by car or airplane, the crisscross the world in the bellies of massive shipping vessels. The global shipping industry currently uses around 200 million tons of diesel oil annually, and it is estimated that the world’s merchant vessels emit around the same amount or more of sulphur oxide as do all the world’s cars, trucks and buses.

Tonbo Solar Hybrid Ferry

image via Eco Marine Power

The engineers and shipping experts at Eco Marine Power aren’t afraid to think way outside the box when it comes to reducing shipping industry emissions. They’ve already imagined oil tankers powered by giant solar wind panels, and are moving forward to make these solar powered vessels a reality.

The Tonbo ferry, the company’s latest concept, uses solar panels to charge advanced lithium batteries. In addition an on-board low emission generator provides a back-up means to recharge the batteries if needed. As required, the marine grade solar modules or panels can be raised to allow passengers on board to have an unobstructed view or lowered to optimize solar energy collection.

EarthTechling caught up with Eco Marine Power’s Greg Atkinson to find out more about this new design.

ET: Before this, your company’s designs mostly focused on commercial vessels. What inspired Eco Marine to develop a hybrid passenger ferry?  

Atkinson: We were inspired to develop the Tonbo Solar Hybrid Ferry because we saw a need for a low emission commercial passenger ferry able to operate on urban waterways or on lakes, rivers, bays. We also wanted to design a low emission, green passenger vessel that incorporated the most advanced renewable energy and power saving technologies available, hence the reason we work with a number of development partners.

The flexible nature of the Tonbo design means that it could operate as a passenger commuter ferry say in Hong Kong or carry tourists on a cruise across a lake in Japan. The technology behind the Tonbo Solar Hybrid Ferry could also be applied to other vessels such a tugboats & fishing vessels. We are also developing a smaller eco-solar urban commuter ferry called the Medaka.

ET: I live in the mountains, so the idea of using a boat to get around the city is foreign to me. How many cities around the world use passenger ferries, and what’s the overall carbon footprint of the industry?

Atkinson: I am not sure of the exact number and how many cities ferries are used in, but there are many thousands of ferry type vessels in service & they operate in some form in just about every modern city near a water such as San Francisco, Sydney, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and of course where our company is based: Fukuoka, Japan.

Regarding emissions, here is a calculation from Wikipedia that might be of use: “The contributions of ferry travel to climate change have received less scrutiny than land and air transport, and vary considerably according to factors like speed and the number of passengers carried. Average carbon dioxide emissions by ferries per passenger-kilometre seem to be 0.12 kg (4.2 oz).”

Finding emission data just for ferries is even more difficult. Generally it just all goes under the heading of “shipping.”

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog