Three sustainable boating technologies changing the industry

Nicholas Upton
July 24, 2014
Filed under News

There has been a lot of positive news in the world of recreational boating the past two years. The National Marine Manufacturers Association found that the industry is now worth over $120 billion annually, with 88 million American adults participating at least once in 2012. Boating fatalities numbered 560 in 2013, down 14 percent from the year before, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Total accidents were also down 10 percent.

The increased popularity of recreational boating has attracted a new breed of environmentally-conscious seafarers who want to enjoy themselves without harming the aquatic ecosystem. Furthermore, the International Maritime Organization estimates that 87 percent of all international trade is handled by ships. The Center For Climate And Energy Solutions says government’s slow movement on subsidizing clean boat technology will cause greenhouse gas emission from global shipping to double by 2050.

Green technology firms and scientists have taken notice however, and have introduced several innovations that will change recreational and commercial boating in the near future. Here are three of those technological advances.

Polli Boat

Miniwiz, a sustainable energy firm based in Taiwan, wanted to create a vessel made from 100 percent waste material and powered by nothing but renewable energy sources. The end result is the Polli Boat, which first sailed in June 2011 on World Ocean Day to raise awareness about sustainable boat technologies.

The boat is named after the company’s signature Polli Bricks, the interlocking polymer bottles produced from 100 percent post-consumer products. Miniwiz, which is also known for making iPhone covers out of recycled materials, used over 700 Polli Bricks in the main hull of the boat and several more in the outer tubes for floatation. The Polli Boat also features six solar panels that power an electric motor when wind is inadequate to propel it with the sails.

The Polli Boat isn’t the first vessel to use trash as it primary building material. The Plastiki, created by billionaire adventurer David de Rothschild, consists of over 13,000 recycled bottles and is also powered by wind and solar energy. Though neither are being mass produced for public availability, there are hundreds of people using the bundled bottle conceptto build their own, similar boats.

Solar Sails

The BBC referred to the technological advances of Australia-based Ocius Ocean Technology, formerly known as Solar Sailor, as potentially the greatest inventions for boats since the steam engine. The Solar Sails can harness both wind and solar power in one device to produce speeds up to 44 knots.

The large solar panels, which also act as sails, give a boat the ability to both “motorsail” (loop the energy from wind and sunlight to produce movement) or “solarsail” like a regular boat. The sails automatically raise when wind is adequate, and lower to a horizontal position when sun is the best energy source.

Ocius also makes solar wings. Dr. Robert Dane, CEO of Ocius, said via the company website that insects first used their wings to harness the sun’s energy, but eventually evolved so they could fly. The same concept is used for the company’s Solar Wings, which automatically adjust to sun and wind conditions to propel the boat. The way navigation rules are taught in boater safety courses would ultimately have to be adjusted due to the automated nature and quiet operations of Solar Sails once the technology goes mainstream.

Solar Sails are currently patented in 26 countries, while the company continues seeking a partner to test sail its product for one year on the same vessel.

Invisible Waves

Motion sickness is inevitable for those who rarely head out to sea. But if waves never reach the boat, it cannot rock, and nobody gets sick and pollutes the water with human waste. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley are working on a cutting-edge solution to make this possible.

The idea is to stop subsurface waves (the cooler water underneath the warmer top layer) from reaching the boat completely, thus eliminating the perpetual rocking motion. This would entail placing rippled platforms on the ocean floor that transfer the kinetic energy from the surface waves to the cold water layer.

The technology would offer several other practical uses for scientists, seafarers, and those living near coastlines. The rippled sheets would give scientists a new method of studying underwater acoustics and how sound travel through water. Dr. Marc Perlin of the University of Michigan pointed out other practical uses for the technology as well. He told Wall Street Dailythese rippled platforms could also be used to protect people from tsunamis and large waves caused by hurricanes.

Thus far scientists have demonstrated these “invisible waves” only in computer simulations. But Mohammed-Reza Alam, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering working on the project, told Discovery News that a real-life version is only a year or two off.

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