Renewable Energy for Greener Shipping

The shipping industry is actively looking at measures to reduce fossil fuel consumption and operate in a more environmentally friendly way. The concepts of "Green Shipping", "Green Logistics" and "Sustainable Shipping" are now important issues for ship owners, shipping lines and ship builders globally. In addition various regulations and initiatives are being implemented aimed at reducing emissions from ships. Examples of these include Emission Control Areas (ECA's) and a limit on the sulphur content in marine fuels that will come into effect in 2020.

Now at sea, as well as on land – the use of renewable energy is increasingly being seen as part of the energy mix. Wind and solar power therefore will most likely play an important role in helping to reduce fuel use and emissions from ships especially as further renewable energy related technologies are developed.

Rigid Sails on Ships

In the 1980's several Japanese ships were fitted with rigid sails with the aim of reducing fuel consumption. This was driven largely by the oil crisis in the 1970's which resulted in oil shortages and the price of oil soaring. However the crisis passed and when prices fell in the 1980's the viability of rigid sails in terms of cost was undermined.

However Japanese ships such as the Shin Aitoku Maru and Usuki Pioneer which were fitted with JAMDA (Japan Marine Machinery Development Association) rigid sails did prove that rigid sails reduced fuel consumption. On the ships that were fitted with these JAMDA sails fuel reductions of approximately 10-30% were reported.

Shin Aitoku with JAMDA rigid sails

Shin Aitoku Maru fitted with JAMDA rigid sails (Source: Wikipedia)

Marine Solar Power

Recent advances in solar cell and photovoltaic module technologies have led to solar power becoming a cost effective fuel reduction option on pleasure boats, ferries and tourist vessels. However on large ships the amount of fuel saved through the use of solar power alone is relatively small. So the idea of a commercially viable solar ship seems impractical at the moment....or is it?

Perhaps rather than having a ship with rigid sails or a ship with solar panels, a better approach would be to design a system that could tap into the power of the wind and sun together. The challenge in developing such a solution is to overcome many of the practical problems entailed in trying to use sails and solar panels on large ships operating in the harsh marine environment. This idea of combining the power of the wind and solar power is not new, and in the 1990's a patent was granted in the United States for a solar powered electric ship concept that incorporated a traditional soft sail fitted with photovoltaic cells.

Ideas and concepts that combine sails with solar power probably pre-date the 1990's however, to date no combined wind power and solar power system that incorporates rigid sails has been deployed on large commercial ocean going ships. But this situation is about to change.

Aquarius MRE® & EnergySail® - Wind & Solar Power for Ships

Aquarius MRE (Marine Renewable Energy) is a solution developed by Eco Marine Power (EMP) of Japan. It combines sail power (using rigid sails) with solar power and is essentially a ship renewable energy system. This patented wind and solar solution is designed so that the practical limitations of using rigid sails and solar panels on ships are overcome.

A ship fitted with Aquarius MRE such as a passenger ferry, cruise ship, bulk carrier, survey vessel or tanker will be able to tap into the limitless power of the wind and sun. These hybrid powered ships will use wind and solar power together as a source of energy and propulsion (along with the ship's main engines) in order to reduce harmful emissions and lower fuel consumption. On a large ship, 1000 tonnes or more of bunker fuel could be saved annually by using Aquarius MRE and CO2 emissions reduced by approximately 3000 tonnes. At the centre of Aquarius MRE is a patented rigid sail technology called the EnergySail. This innovative device can incorporate a number of renewable energy technologies and can be installed on a wide variety of vessels.

Impression of Aquarius MRE on Tanker

Impression of Aquarius MRE on Tanker (Source: Eco Marine Power)

A prototype of the EnergySail has completed land-based feasibility tests & a second factory produced EnergySail has been manufactured by Teramoto Iron Works in Onomichi, Japan. Teramoto Iron Works was one of the companies involved in the manufacture of JAMDA rigid sails in 1980's and this innovative company has a long history of manufacturing high quality products for the shipping industry, It is also one of the few companies in the world that has manufactured large rigid sails for ocean-going ships.

EnerySail during Production Testing

The marine solar power sub-system within Aquarius MRE is known as Aquarius Marine Solar Power. Components of this sub-system were installed on-board the high speed ferry Blue Star Delos in 2014 as part of a joint evaluation project with Blue Star Ferries. A research paper related to the trials on-board Delos has been published by the Journal of Marine Engineering & Technology and can be accessed via this link: Analysis of marine solar power trials on Blue Star Delos.

A second marine solar power system is also currently being prepared for installation onto a large general cargo ship and will utilise for the first time unique class-approved hybrid batteries from The Furukawa Battery Company.

Next Steps

In late 2017 EMP announced that it was working towards sea trials of Aquarius MRE. These trials will bring together the complete system on a ship for the first time. Additional lab and shore based testing will also be conducted during these trials and variations of the system developed.


This article was written by Greg Atkinson, Chief Technology Officer, Eco Marine Power. It was first published on LinkedIn on January 8th, 2018. This version was updated on 26th October 2018.

Aquarius MRE, EnergySail and Aquarius Eco Ship are trademarks of Eco Marine Power Co. Ltd.


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Hybrid marine power solutions including solar power save fuel, reduce pollution and are cost effective. Eco Marine Power is at the forefront of developing low emission & fuel saving solutions for ships, Our computer systems also provide a control interface between renewable energy & other systems on-board ships.
Eco Marine Power is at the forefront of providing innovative marine renewable energy technologies for shipping that harness the power of the sun & wind. These solutions include Aquarius MRE, EnergySail & Aquarius Marine Solar Power. These reduce fuel consumption, lower noxious gas emissions and deliver cost benefits.
Aquarius Management & Automation System or Aquarius MAS is a cost effective alarm handling, monitoring & data logging platform suitable for a wide range of ships. The system is based upon the reliable KEI 3240 Data Logger and is class approved. Aquarius MAS can also monitor fuel use & calculate vessel emissions.
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