California Offers Funds to Turn Cargo Boats into Hybrids

Cars catch a lot of flak for pollution, but they are not the only source of manmade greenhouse gas emissions by a long shot — cargo ships, airplanes, trains, even cows and industrial farming make the list too. Many of the same technologies that are being tried out to improve auto emissions may also be used on other forms of transportation.

Large cargo boats are amongst the dirtiest polluters and, considering much of the world’s populations lives along the coasts, they can have a mighty detrimental effect on the health of the population. In light of this, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) is soliciting a proposal for a grant for up to $1 million to hybridize current marine vessels.

$1 million may not sound like much, but when you consider that CARB seems to be looking give that away for a single project boat to act as a test case for applying a hybrid drive train to large boats, it starts to sound better. Los Angeles has one of the busiest ports in the world, and California is home to over 50 million people, many living on the coast. The big cargo boats carrying all those goods in and out of the country consume many millions of gallons of heavy oil fuel, which is very polluting. California has tried to curb boat related emissions by making the ships use a low-sulfur marine distillate fuel rather than heavy oil, but the ships are choosing to simply take a different route to avoid using the expensive fuel.

A hybrid boat makes sense, if it could work sort of like the Volt. While out in the open ocean, the boats could use the heavy oil fuel (which is still bad, but at least it isn’t hanging over our homes). But close to shore they could switch over to an electric drive system that just needs to get them the last twenty or so miles into port. I’m no engineer, so I don’t know what it would take to do such a thing. But these huge ships have a lot of cargo space; I’m sure they could dedicate some of it to extra motors and batteries for the short trip into port.

Toyota has already toyed with the idea of using solar panels on their ships to supply electric power, but I think they could do a whole lot better. What if the ship could be linked to all the electric car batteries it has to eventually carry?  I don’t know if it would work… but it sounds good in my head. Nippon Yusen and Nippon Oil are working on a partially solar powered ship (pictured above) as well.

Source: CARB via Green Car Congress | Image: Nippon Yusen/Nippon Oil

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.