Everywhere you go in Japan, you see cars and home electronics products made to be friendlier to the global environment. And not just on land. By using the most advanced high technology in the world, Japanese companies are building ocean-going vessels called "eco-ships" which use less fuel and release less CO2 into the air. Japan is a shipbuilding superpower; one in every five ships made in the world is built in Japan. Building eco-ships is one of the ways in which Japan intends to contribute to preserving the global environment.
World's First Solar Power Ship
The Auriga Leader, a car carrier, which put solar energy into actual use for the first time in the world. © Nippon Yusen K.K.
Large cargo ships carry many things, including foods such as wheat and soybeans, liquefied natural gas (LNG), iron ore and cars. The largest car carrier made in Japan has 14 floors, is about 200 meters long, and can carry 6,400 cars on a single voyage.
A giant ship like that needs a lot of fuel because it is heavy and because it faces great resistance from the waves. Eco-ships reduce CO2 emissions by using less fuel and reducing wave resistance.
One way to do so is to use solar energy. The Auriga Leader, a Japanese car carrier which went into service in December 2008, is the world's first ship to put solar energy to actual use. The ship has 328 solar panels, spread over 250 square meters on the deck. Solar energy provides less than 1% of all the energy the ship uses. However, for the first time in the world, the Japanese ship also has large-volume batteries to store solar energy.
The Emerald Ace, a car carrier, with 768 solar panels installed on the deck.
A closer view of the solar panels aboard the Emerald Ace. © Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Inc.
In June 2012, the Emerald Ace, also a car carrier, went into service with 768 solar panels on its deck. This ship does not need fuel to generate electricity when in harbor. While out at sea, the ship generates electricity by solar energy and stores it in lithium-ion batteries on board. Once in harbor, its diesel generators are stopped and solar power is used. The onboard solar panels can generate about 160 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power about 50 homes. Ships just began to take advantage of solar energy and more solar ships are on the horizon.