The future of container ships!?

As we have talked in class, a mayor role in global transport plays the freight container. These normed containers set a new standard and this was the basis for its worldwide success. Nowadays, about 70% of general cargo freight is shipped with containers. And container ships are getting bigger and bigger. This evolution lead to a huge decrease in transportation costs. However, one big problem is still unsolved:

Nearly all container ships use heavy oil for their engines, a fuel that is made out of the left overs of the gasoline production, and extremely hazardous for the environment. There are about 50.000 container ships transporting goods around the world. The biggest 15 of them emit the same amount of exhaust gases as 750 million cars.

In this video, Jorne Langelaan, a Dutch ship owner, explains the problems in detail:

And he not only describes the problem, he also comes up with an innovative solution: The ecoliner. That container ship with a hybrid, it can either be powered by a conventional ship engine using heavy oil or Diesel, or navigate with the wind.

The technique for the sails that are going to be used was already developed in the 1960’s and it is called Dyna-Rigg, however it took a long time to implement it in modern ships and bring the proof that it works. Internet-billionair Tom Perkins ordered an 88m long yacht called Maltese Falcon, its launch was in 2006. Sails can be spread within 7 minutes and they are steered electronically, which allows to include on-time weather forecasts into the navigation plan. That allows to use windpower in a quite efficient way.

Maltese Falcon
Maltese Falcon

This technique shall now be transfered to the ecoliner, which is currently in a prototype stadium. Once it has been built, the ship will be 130m long and have a cargo capacity of around 50.000 tonns. For comparison: the biggest container ship built is 395m long and carries up to 200.000 tonns of freight. So the ecoliner will not be more than an average size container ship, but the architect guarantees the same speed as motor ships and that the ship can be navigated by a comparable crew, so the overall performance will be equal to motor ships.

The great benefit the ecoliner provides is the by far better ecologic footprint. Compared to an equal size motor ship, the ecoliner reduces the amount of CO2 emissions by 30 to 40.000 tonns each year. This is equal to the emissions of more than 20.000 cars. Depending on the weather emissions can be reduced between 50% and 90%.

Though the advantages are clear, a quick realisation of this concept is uncertain due to the fact, that there is currently a big over-capacity of container ships. Besides that a lot of shipping companies are facing losses due to the economic crisis and therefore have no money left for such investments. Regarding the fact that oil prices are rather low, the advantages of the ecoliner becomes smaller. But in order to be ready for the future of container transport, shipping companies have to think about alternatives, and the ecoliner could be one.

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Further information:

  1. http://fairtransport.eu/shipbuilding/ecoliner/
  2. https://reset.org/blog/wind-und-segel-greenshipping-dem-ecoliner-12232013
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Maltese_Falcon_%28yacht%29
  4. http://www.spiegel.de/auto/aktuell/volkswagen-will-umweltprobleme-mit-erstem-segelfrachter-der-welt-umschiffen-a-1088281.html
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