New technologies for marine transportation to reduce pollution: electric hydrofoils, syngas, artificial leaves, multi-masted sailing ships

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The “Belfast Pioneer” glides quietly and smoothly on the water, leaving not many tracks behind.

“When there’s a lot of wind and waves, there’s an obvious benefit to being able to ski over the waves,” said Katrina Thompson, program director at Artemis Technologies.

Pioneer, developed by Artemis Technologies, is the world’s first electric hydrofoil boat to enter the market.

The hydrofoil is the wing-shaped structure under the hull. With the help of the lift of the hydrofoil, the hull can be lifted out of the water, which greatly reduces the sailing resistance.

According to Artemis Technologies, the hydrofoils, combined with their electric motors, are able to cut the fuel consumption of the boats by 90 percent while traveling with no emissions.

“This is a transformative technology,” Dr Thompson said.

Dr Thompson grew up in an area of ​​Belfast known as Sailortown. It is a place where heavy industry gathers. Her parents worked on the boat, and she spent much of her childhood playing on the docks.

She later left Belfast to become an aeronautical engineer, working on aircraft design for Rolls-Royce and Bombardier. She later returned to her hometown and brought back her expertise.

Dr. Thompson

“My dad couldn’t understand the boat. After I showed him under the hull, he said, there was a wing,” Dr. Thompson said.

Artemis has brought together experts from the racing industry, aeronautical engineers, flight control specialists and physical model specialists as well as ship designers.

Dr. Thompson said that the Pioneer is 11.5 meters long, which is very suitable for transporting people to and from the wind farm.

“The ship only needs to sail against the wind to the wind farm, dock and disembark the crew. This is a low-energy voyage.”

The tracks left by sea voyages can erode coasts and reduce habitat. Because their ship has no track, Artemis is allowed to operate at a higher speed than other ships near the port, thus greatly reducing sailing time.

“We operate in an industry that has traditionally been slow to adapt to new technologies. If we do it now, we can make a smooth transition to decarbonisation,” Dr Thompson said.

Container ship at the Port of Oakland, USA

90% of global trade is carried by sea. Emissions from the international maritime shipping industry account for 3% of the global total. If the industry is regarded as a country, its emissions rank sixth in the world.

In 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set a target to reduce industry emissions by 50% from 2008 to 2050. But experts say industry emissions should be reduced by 100 percent to meet the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But can the shipping industry clean itself?

For short-distance shipping, ships can run on electricity, but for international shipping, it has been suggested that hydrogen-based fuels could be used to help decarbonize the entire industry.

But switching to hydrogen will require structural changes to the fuel infrastructure. Fuel storage and cost will be huge challenges, and ships will need to be modified to use hydrogen energy.

To solve this problem, some researchers are working on some revolutionary technologies.

Cambridge University is experimenting with floating fuel-generating devices

Experts from the University of Cambridge say that synthetic gas produced by artificial photosynthesis can play a bridge transition role between fossil fuels and clean hydrogen energy.

Dr Virgil Andrei, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, said: “Syngas is a fuel gas mixed with hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which is an intermediate product in the production of conventional fuels such as gasoline. If we achieve sustainable production of syngas, We wouldn’t need fossil fuels.”

In the Cam River, the punting boats are full of tourists, and the boats pass through the Bridge of Sighs and pass St. John’s College. The water is sparkling, with golden and red autumn leaves floating on the water. A leaf seemed to be “very out of gregarious”, and Dr. Andre covered it, as if fearing that it would be taken away by hungry teals.

The plastic sheet should be strong enough not to be damaged by animals like regular leaves, he said.

Dr. Andre said, “In fact, covering the water surface to a certain extent, up to 50%, will not affect wildlife, and it may even have benefits, such as preventing water evaporation from irrigation canals.”

The "leaves" in this experiment have two light-absorbing materials

Dr Andre and his team at the University of Cambridge have developed an artificial leaf that can generate new energy from sunlight and water, which could eventually be used on a large scale at sea.

This leaf absorbs sunlight in two ways. One is to use blue light in the spectrum to generate oxygen from water. The other is to use the red light in the spectrum to turn carbon dioxide and protons into synthesis gas or hydrogen.

Dr Andre said the low cost of the ultra-thin, flexible devices and their ability to float and operate autonomously on water meant they could be used as a sustainable way to generate energy, replacing petrol without taking up space on land.

“That way it should be possible to have this kind of decentralized fuel production facility in remote places, like near the coast, near lakes, near islands. We can also have places to refuel ships.”

This is the first time clean energy has been generated on water, and if scaled up, the artificial leaf could also be used in polluted shipping lanes, in ports or at sea, reducing the global ocean shipping industry’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Putting this technology into practice is still a long way off, but there are efforts to restore traditional shipping methods that have been used for hundreds of years.

Shipyard of Sailcargo Company in Costa Rica

Julia Milmore is president of Sailcargo, a company founded in 2014 in the mangrove wetlands of Costa Rica.

The company’s flagship, the Ceiba, is under construction at shipyards in the Central American country of Costa Rica. The ship is scheduled to launch in 2024.

This 45 meter boat has 3 masts, so it is a multi-masted sailing ship. It can carry 250 tons of cargo, which is equivalent to nine standard shipping containers.

Ms Millmore said that once built, the ship would be the world’s largest pollution-free and clean cargo ship.

“The crew knows that every action they make to hoist a sail on a ship contributes greatly to a larger purpose that goes beyond that ship itself.”

Julia Milmore is President of Sailcargo
Another Vega was purchased from a Swedish family and has been refitted so that it can sail between American countries, transporting “fair trade” organic coffee.

The Vega will sail between Santa Marta, Colombia and New Jersey, USA, eight times a year. Each voyage took 16 days, with another six days required for port calls.

Vega Gamley

“We can’t compete with fossil fuel traffic in terms of speed, but a quick look at a map of active ships shows that out-of-port cargo ships around the world are often waiting weeks to come in,” Ms Millmore said.

Their sailing ships can only carry a fraction of the cargo carried by modern container ships, some of which can carry more than 20,000 tons.

But Ms Millmore said their small boat could avoid the bottlenecks that plague the shipping industry.

“The scale of consumption has far outstripped infrastructure capacity. Our ships can avoid these problems by being flexible in unloading and loading. We stay away from markets that degrade our environment.”


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