Green building has taken a strong foothold throughout the construction world, but such practices rarely take place when it comes to infrastructure and transport work.
As a result, while the engineering sector on the whole has embraced the use of green technology, both infrastructure and transport remain at or near the top of the list when it comes to carbon emissions across the globe. This data comes despite the fact that engineers are constantly devising new and innovative eco-friendly solutions.
One notable exception to the general trend is Hong Kong’s Solar Eagle. Built by the Solar Sailor, an Australian company, the ferry is fueled by hybrid energy, with solar panels on the ship’s roof providing renewable energy.
The Solar Eagle is one of four vessels to use similar hybrid fuel technology and more are planned in the future.
While most ships are fueled by fossil fuels, the Solar Eagle stores power collected through the solar panels in a battery which is used to help the boat navigate in and out of harbours. Once out at sea, where conditions typically demand more power, the ship’s diesel motor kicks into gear.
One of the Solar Eagle’s sister ships, the Solar Albatross, uses solar sail technology which is able to store and use power from both the sun and wind. This technology has been used on small boats but has yet to be rolled out on a wide scale when it comes to larger vessels.
Solar Sailor, however, has plans to apply solar sails to bulk carriers, which are used in shipping and trade around the world. The shipping industry is one of the few sectors that remains virtually unchanged in terms of carbon emissions despite advances in green technology.
While the concept will bring about environmental gains, Solar Sailor founder Robert Dane feels the technology will also benefit shipping companies’ bottom lines.
“The systems we are installing are worth around $6 million (Australian dollars) and therefore the return on investment would be a couple of years at the current oil price,” he said.
It is estimated that solar sails will allow companies to save as much as 20 to 40 per cent in fuel costs for the giant barges. This would mean millions of dollars in the long-term while reducing carbon emissions from overreliance on fossil fuels.
Though the plans hardly herald a sea change, any sort of green initiative in this sector is long overdue and will, due to the sheer volume of shipping that takes place in the global trade market, undoubtedly make a huge mark in the battle against climate change.