The Emerald Ace: Japan's Prius Of The Sea

Japan, China and South Korea together dominate 90 per cent of the global ship-building industry. But compared to the neighbours, Japan is getting killed on production costs. So how do the Japanese respond? By inventing an entirely new kind of ship.

"Eco-ships are prerequisites," said Masafumi Okada, managing director of Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding, at a recent press conference. "We cannot fight without them." Indeed, while Japan has led the world in shipbuilding since the '70s, the 2008 financial crisis effectively strangled the industry. In response, the Japanese simply changed the rules of the game. The island nation sponsored a revision to the International Maritime Organisation's Marpol convention, which gradually reduces the amount of carbon ships are allowed to produce while operating.

And, at the same time, Japan began developing a trump card, the Emerald Ace. It's the first ship of its size in history to employ a hybrid electric power plant, and the first ship ever to produce zero emissions while berthed. That's no typo -- that's zero emissions, baby. No carbon whatsoever when the ship isn't moving. It pulls off this amazing feat with the power of the sun.

The Emerald Ace was the very last ship built at the Kobe Shipyard (which now produces submarines exclusively), launched this past March. It's 200m long by 36m wide, with a 34m draft, and it weighs 55,000 tonnes -- about a third as large as the Emma Maersk. It's big enough to transport 6400 passenger cars on its 12 decks at just over 20 knots. Well, not all the decks, the very top deck is reserved for the 768 panels of HIT Double -- Panasonic's new double-sided solar cell modules.

Each individual cell produces up to 210W, and each panel of cells can generate upwards of 160kW -- about enough to power 50 homes. 2.2MWh of this energy is stored in 324,000 Li-ion rechargeable batteries. Packed into 20-unit modules located at the very bottom of the ship, the batteries double as ballast. These batteries, type 18650, are actually the same kind used to power notebook computers.

When the ship is at sea, it relies on its diesel engines for locomotion, and any excess solar-generated power is used to run the ship's navigation, instruments, lighting and A/C. Once the Emerald Ace pulls into port, the diesel engines shut down.

"We made a difficult and significant decision after considering recent conditions surrounding (the industry)," President Hideaki Omiya said at a news conference. The benefits are apparent -- the ship should shave its emissions by 4 per cent for a two-month trip to Europe.

[Break Bulk - Nikkei - AJW 1, 2 - Panasonic - MOL - MHI]

Image: Mitsui O.S.K. Lines


    Worthwhile hiring a proper voice over guy...

    I would not want to know what happen to all the battery acid if that ship ever sinks... 0_o

      Lithium Ion batteries aren't acidic. You deactivate Lithium cells by puncturing them and keeping them in salt water for a few minutes. If the ship sinks, you'll worry more about the diesel because the cells pretty much automatically deactivate and degrade naturally.

    Deb, Li ion batteries do not contain acid.... and are sealed.

    one panel can power 50 homes??
    why arnt these everywhere?

      While solar panels themselves aren't too expensive for homes, keep in mind that you also need either a "grid-tie" inverter, or a battery system that your solar generated power runs into.
      You wouldn't want to power your appliances directly from solar panels as the power levels rise and fall as the sun moves thru the sky, and the power levels can drop/rise dramatically when clouds are around.
      If you use a grid-tie inverter to join your local power grid you need approval from your electricity company, but you might be able to earn money from any excess power you export to the grid.
      If you use batteries they are relatively expensive to buy, and need replacing after a few years.

      Having said all that I reckon every home owner should get a solar power system if they can - mine is saving me money now.

    Zero emissions... when Idling!!! What a joke. 4% reduction isn't going to count for much when it takes so much Diesel to run a ship that it dwarfs it. I heard somewhere that all the emissions from ships are more than emissions from all the cars, trucks/buses and trains combined, because engine efficiency in ships are so far behind compared to other transport.

    How did our forefathers manage to sail around the world? Wind Power! A little be of wind power wouldn't go far astray to literally "sail". I'm sure that with all the technology and engineering achievements in the last century, it would not be infeasible to build a large, reliable, automated sail ship in this day and age.

    Why don't all ships use grid power when in Port, instead of running diesel generators for axillary power
    (maybe they do, though I'm pretty sure that they use the generators...) Of course when standing by, hove-to at sea they can't use the grid..... Though their use of Solar is dwarfed by the use of Propulsion fuel, ships use somewhere around 3-5 tonnes of fuel per day for their Power generation (assuming one 500 kW generator running at full load the whole time, with a second generator allowing for peaking loads, (500kW at full load = 35 Gallons per hour (US)).
    So 3 Tonnes of fuel per day, is more than most people would use in their car in a year, and as there are only 18-25 people on the ships so per person that is a fairly high energy usage... ignoring the Bunker C fuel usage, (say 200 tonnes and higher per day (panamax best).)

    Really simon?
    Wind power a fifty thousand tonne cargo ship?
    "The new series Mazda 3 /2012 model, arriving and ready for sale first quarter 2017"

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