Japan looks to renewables to solve the carbon conundrum

Eco Marine Power's new EnergySail design uses solar-panelled sails to provide onboard power. Credit: Eco Marine Power
Eco Marine Power's new EnergySail design uses solar-panelled sails to provide onboard power. Credit: Eco Marine Power

Operators are under pressure to reduce CO2 emissions from their vessels, with regulations to cut SOX emissions coming into force in 2020 and the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) expected to agree a strategy for the introduction of market measures to cut carbon emissions in April.

As these regulations close in, owners will need to find methods of reducing emissions substantially with a view to protecting the environment. Meeting the requirements of some regulations will be easier than others. To comply with the sulphur cap, owners have a choice of fitting scrubbers, switching to liquefied natural gas, or using low-sulphur fuels. The complexity arises in estimating the total costs for each option after the date of enforcement, with the choices necessarily being made before enforcement.

If the sulphur cap matrix is complex, then the variations involved when owners are making decisions over the future regulation of carbon are positively tortuous in their copious and byzantine intricacies. Slow steaming will substantially improve fuel efficiency, but will customers be willing to wait longer for their cargo? If a vessel slow steams, will the owner have to derate the engine, change propellers, and fit a new bulbous bow? Should the owner add Flettner rotors, shaft generators, waste heat recovery systems, or other power-producing or -saving systems?

In April, the IMO should bring more clarity to the subject of carbon regulations and the thorny issue of market-based measures.

Renewable energy sources are often overlooked when considering emissions from shipping, but renewables can cut fuel consumption and, if used with other technologies, emissions could be cut by up to 40%, according to Japanese technology firm Eco Marine Power (EMP).

If a ship includes renewable energy, such as rigid sails and solar power with LED lighting, air lubrication, optimised hull design, and waste heat recovery, this could “dramatically reduce the emission of noxious gases”, EMP said.

Carbon targets have yet to be set, and shipping was omitted from the final declaration following the Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 held in Paris in late 2016. However, COP 21 recognised that in order to meet the target of maintaining global warming to within 2°C, governments would need to be dynamic in their thinking, as would the industry.

Despite shipping’s exclusion from the COP 21 declaration, it will need to play its part and new developments and research projects are under way to improve vessel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

No country is investing more in its ship design and vessel technology development than Japan. With its reputation for innovation and first-rate shipbuilding, Japanese industry could offer at least a partial solution to the carbon conundrum.

One of the designs that could soon be on offer is EMP’s rigid sail technology EnergySail, which uses wind power to assist with propulsion and solar panels to provide electrical energy for the vessel’s onboard needs, as well as providing additional battery energy storage when renewable energy is unavailable.

Some of this technology has already been tested, according to EMP Director and Chief Technology Officer Greg Atkinson, who said trials of the solar energy part of the company’s Aquarius Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) solution first took place in 2015 when a solar array was fitted to the Greek ferry Blue Star Delos.

“The next phase is due to start this year on a bulk carrier operating probably from Japan, and on this vessel, we will start building up the complete system, i.e., solar and sails. We also have a shore-based testing area in Onomichi, Japan. There are currently two EnergySails there and we are building a marine solar power system at that location as well,” Atkinson told IHS Markit.

In its sea trials of the rigid sails, EMP is partnering with Hisafuku Kisen, which will provide the vessel on which the system will be fitted, which is expected to be an 80,000 dwt bulk carrier. In addition, EMP certified Furukawa Battery as the supplier of valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries for the system. Furukawa Battery and EMP have collaborated since 2014 – Furukawa supplied the battery pack installed on Blue Star Delos – and the latest deal will cement that alliance.

“We would be looking to get up to 50 kWh or more,” explained Atkinson, adding, “Primarily we will use the batteries for voltage stabilisation at first so we might add more later. On land, the UB [Ultra Battery] series batteries have been used in smart grid projects in configurations of up to 672 kWh.”

According to Atkinson, the newer UB VRLA units will be capable of operating for 20 years if used in conjunction with EMP’s battery management system, although this claim is difficult to verify.

Results from the limited testing on Blue Star Delos “demonstrated that under operational conditions at sea, a low-voltage marine solar power system using thin-panel photovoltaic (PV) technology and energy storage could provide a continuous stable supply of power to a DC load”, according to a report.

The system produced significantly greater power output than had been expected, while the performance of the PV panels did not significantly decline as the build-up of dirt and salt occurred.

The report acknowledged that “analysis of data over a longer period needs to be undertaken and the possibility to improve the power yield by adjusting system parameters requires investigation. Additionally, the impact of the marine environment on the solar panels and aluminium frames requires further study, including determining how frequently the marine solar panel array should be washed and maintained”.

Atkinson said the results from testing on the bulk carrier, which includes both sail power and solar energy, should be available from early 2019.

Rigid sails will be mounted on steel masts, with PV cells mounted on the sail element itself. The sails can be stowed when in port, but the system will still produce enough energy for the vessel to conduct port operations without the need for auxiliary power. “We are in the final phase of selecting the PV for EnergySail. The sail itself will be made from a combination of materials, including steel, especially for the mast, and some other composite materials,” said Atkinson.

“Each EnergySail will be automatically positioned by a computer system to best suited to the prevailing weather conditions and can be lowered and stored when not in use or in bad weather. A dedicated computer system known as the EnergySail ACS has been developed specifically to control and monitor the sails automatically. The control algorithms used to manage the sails automatically are part of EMP’s IP and include elements of robotics and artificial intelligence.”

The system will be monitored by the Aquarius Management and Automation System (MAS), which is a fuel oil-monitoring and data-logging system that is already in use on hundreds of vessels, according to EMP. In addition, the Aquarius MAS records performance data and can calculate the amount of energy provided by renewable sources through the monitoring of fuel consumption.

Atkinson told IHS Markit that the MAS is not connected to the web. “The MAS can be connected to the internet, although [not as part of its] standard package. My view is that if something doesn’t need to be connected to the internet all the time, then don’t have it connected,” he said. “Data collected by the MAS is logged to a memory card and the data can be easily emailed back to head office as needed for analysis or imported into a ship performance application.”

The rigid sails will be manufactured in Onomichi by Teramoto Iron Works, which signed a deal with EMP in January committing to the project. Teramoto Iron Works has experience in the production of rigid sails as it was part of the Japan Machinery Development Association (JAMDA) rigid sail project conducted in the 1980s.

According to EMP, “JAMDA [testing] did prove that rigid sails reduced fuel consumption. More than a dozen ships were fitted with these JAMDA sails and fuel reductions of approximately 10–30% were reported.”

Whether the latest sail designs will achieve these levels of energy saving is unclear, but with the improvement in design technology, materials, and computing power, the hope is that rigid sails will offer owners a competitive edge.