Bulk carrier powered by the sun
Solar Sailor, an Australian company specialising in renewable energy technologies, is negotiating to install its solar and wind power systems on a massive dry cargo ship that could be used to haul iron ore from Australia to China.
The equipment is likely to be similar - but on a more massive scale - to the zero-emission systems the company has installed on four dual-fuel passenger ferries operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
Solar Sailor Holdings chief executive Robert Dane said talks were under way with an Australian mining giant which planned to buy a fleet of ultra-large Capesize bulk ore carriers. He declined to name the company, pointing out the issue was 'very sensitive', but Solar Sailor is already working on initial development work to install its equipment on new ships as well as retrofitting existing vessels.
He estimated it would cost A$7 million (HK$58 million) to install solar-panel-equipped sails on the bulk carrier but that the owner would save that amount on fuel in just two years.
Electric power from the solar cells would augment power from the diesel engines, while the sail would harness the wind to provide additional thrust that would allow the ship owner to reduce engine power.
Each sail, which could be lowered to fold along the side of the ship to allow cargo to be loaded and unloaded, would cover 800 square metres. This is 25 times the area of each of the sails used on the Solar Albatross, one of four passenger ferries Solar Sailor has built for the Jockey Club to ferry passengers from Sai Kung to the Kau Sai Chau golf course.
Solar Albatross is the only one of the four vessels that has solar-equipped sails, which can be angled to the sun and wind direction. The three other ferries have solar cells mounted on the roof.
Solar Sailor held a patent, which it had already been forced to defend, covering 'any vessel with a wing or sail that has got solar panels or cells on it that can be angled to the sun or the wind and can fold down', Dane said.
He said initial estimates showed that the four ferries, which can carry up to 100 people each, had cut the Jockey Club's fuels costs by half. Dane said the ferries would be monitored over the next year to assess the actual fuel savings.
Electric power from the solar cells is used for the five minutes when the ferries are arriving and departing Sai Kung and Kau Sai Chau, while the diesel engine is started for the 15-minute cruise.
Dane said the ferries can operate at six knots using electric power and 16 knots using diesel.
The diesel engine consumed about 10 litres of oil an hour. 'With solar power we can reduce that by a couple of litres. For us that's the critical thing - the fuel savings,' he said.
Dane said the arrival of the Jockey Club vessels had sparked interest elsewhere, although approaches to Star Ferry had met with more resistance.
He said retrofitting the Star Ferry ships with solar-powered, all-electric engines 'would be a piece of cake'.