Back in 2009, Toyota retrofitted the 6,200 car carrier ship Auriga Leader with large banks of solar cells in an effort to save fuel. It wasn’t exactly successful, but big new batteries may fix a lot of those old problems.
The 328 solar cells on board the ship made just enough power for 1% of the electrical systems, and 0.05% of the propulsion power. At that rate, the Auriga Leader would save just 13 tons of fuel, and 40 tons of CO2, per year. Sounds like a lot, but consider that the average ship guzzles down 120 gallons of fuel per mile, and there’s not a lot of savings to be had. Still, the panels collected 1.4 times more energy on the sea than equivalent land-based solar cells, though cloud cover would cause spikes and dips in power, making it unreliable as even a secondary backup source of power.
The initial experiment (i.e. the entire ship) completed its first trial in 2009, and Toyota’s engineers have been hard at work remedying the problem. The solution they settled on was to add huge Gigacell nickel-hydride batteries on board the solar ship. As an added bonus, the solar ship will also get a low-sulfur diesel generator, as well as a water treatment system for its ballast tanks to prevent the introduction of invasive species.
It’s the batteries that will make the biggest difference though. These batteries will store the power as it comes in, and dole it out when the sun isn’t shining. The Auriga Leader is set for another test this month, carrying in all likelihood some much-needed Toyota Prii, (Prius…) across the Pacific Ocean to America. Now somebody just has to combine this solar ship with Nissan’s aerodynamic car carrier and the SkySail, and we’re talking about some real fuel (and cash) savings here.
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.