Eco Marine Power, a Japanese company specializing in renewable energy technology for marine use, is building an Aquarius Eco Ship that will harness both wind and solar power. The ultimate goal is to help various kinds of large vessels to significantly reduce their fuel consumption.

“With its combined technologies, the Aquarius Eco Ship could use up to 40 per cent less fuel,” says Greg Atkinson, Eco Marine Power’s Director. “Emissions could be even lower than 40 per cent if scrubbers and other technologies are also employed.”

The Aquarius MRE (patent pending) computer-controlled system of rigid sails, solar panels and energy storage units was shortlisted for the Ship Technology Global Innovation in Energy Efficiency Award for 2013 with the winner to be announced before year-end. Eco Marine’s project has also been pivotal in prompting the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protect Committee to include wind propulsion within its Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI).

The Aquarius MRE system is designed for integration aboard cargo vessels, bulk ore carriers, oil tankers, passenger ferries, coast guard vessels, survey boats and even frigates. Sea trials are set for early 2014 with commercialization planned for 2015/2016, depending on the success of the actual engineering. “It’s not necessarily correct to assume that a big sail will deliver big fuel savings,” Mr. Atkinson says. “And the reality is that these sails will need to be mounted on a ship and able to withstand large forces, so bigger may not always be better.”

The system of rigid EnergySails equipped with solar panels is configured to make the most of wind availability to move the boat at the same time as it captures the sun’s energy for storage in battery units. “Additional solar panels could be installed on routes with sunny conditions nearly year-round,” Atkinson says.

Eco Marine has developed the Aquarius Management & Automation System (MAS) to optimize the ship’s operation by charting the most favourable route and constantly adjusting the EnergySails. “The Aquarius MAS will accurately relate the impact of the wind and solar power on reducing fuel consumption in real time,” Mr. Atkinson says.

The MAS system will be able to quickly raise, turn, lower and store each of the EnergySails at once or individually as required. “For example, when high winds are detected, the computer will automatically initiate a command to lower the EnergySails,” Mr. Atkinson says. “We have incorporated a range of hardware-related design features that enable the EnergySail to withstand high winds, and safety mecha nisms – including software algorithms – to deal with microbursts.” The MAS system is designed to integrate with a ship’s existing systems and equipment, such as engine performance monitors and data loggers, and is scheduled to be commercially available in 2015.

All of the hardware is being designed so it can be specifically configured and scaled to suit most vessel designs. The EnergySails can be varied in shape and size from 20 square metres to more than 100 square metres.

Richmond, B.C.-based Corvus Energy is working with Eco Marine to store the solar energy on board within proprietary batteries. The aim is to have the Eco Ship hold a megawatt of power from the solar panels – approximately 50 times the amount of electricity needed for a house. The stored energy will be used either while a ship is in port (instead of running auxiliary generators) or as supplementary power as the ship is underway. Eco Marine is also in the process of patenting its method of using solar panels to maintain a vessel’s position at sea. “As solar panel technology improves and ships move towards all-electric propulsion, I expect we’ll see both solar and wind energies play bigger roles,” Atkinson says. “Improvements in energy storage will also help.” Realizing how quickly improvements may come about, Eco Marine has already established a plan for easily upgrading components, especially the solar panels. “The sails will most likely be prima rily made from marine-grade aluminium, but we’re looking at several other materials as well, and the commercial version may be a composite of these,” Mr. Atkinson says.

Eco Marine is keeping costs in mind and has targeted a five-to-seven-year payback for operators of its Aquarius MRE System. So far, cost, reliability and operability have been the major issues. “We have addressed these problems during the design phase and are working on further improvements during the current lab testing with KEI System in Osaka,” Mr. Atkinson says. “The sails are only one element of a larger, more complicated system,” he emphasizes. “The computer system and software algorithms are just as important, if not more so, in my opinion.” Some aspects of the newly developed technology have already been incorporated in hybrid ferries in Japan.