B9’s Carbon Free Cargo Ships: Wind and Biofuel Powered Shipping

While many of us greenies espouse the virtues of supporting local economies, occasionally we (ehem, I) want that Piemonte Barolo or a block of Basque blue cheese. And with China leading the global charge in production of renewable infrastructure and equipment, it’s looking like going green will far from diminish the need for international commerce.

Today, international shipping is an extremely unregulated and dirty industry that is responsible for between three and four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. However B9 Shipping, a subsidiary of the UK’s largest independent operator of wind energy, is embarking an a new voyage to “demonstrate the potential of embracing a commercially viable carbon free future to deliver clean shipping solutions for a cleaner planet.” Its zero-emissions small cargo ships will be 60% powered by wind, 40% powered by biogas-derived liquefied methane, and made from recycled steel that is melted down using torrefied wood (a purportedly carbon neutral biofuel). It’s hard not to get at least a little giddy.

Cargo ships are typically exempt from environmental regulations, such as those that curtail emissions, and are fueled by a carbon-intensive dirty sludge called bunker fuel. At best, cargo ships emit loads of pollutants from the unrefined bunker fuel, including carbon (albeit far less than any air freight alternative). At worst, mishaps–such as the somewhat recent debacle when a prescription pill-popping pilot rammed the Cosco Busan into the Bay Bridge in Northern California–can cause ecologically disastrous oils spills.

Measuring 100 meters in length and tip(toe)ing the scales at around 3,000 tons, B9’s ships are relative dwarfs compared to the bulk freighter heavyweights of the sea, which average between 15 and 30,000 tons.

Notwithstanding, B9’s wind powered darlings have an economic range of a thousand miles, and will be competitive with oil fueled cargo ships with similar ranges. B9 is expected to set sail in 2012 and is honing in on the UK’s biofuel market. David Surplus, the (serendipitously surnamed) managing director at B9, explains that they were looking for a “niche market to trade in.” And with British demand for biofuels forecasted to reach 30 million tons in the not-so-distant future, biomass and woodchips is a savvy starting point. And anyway, what’s the point of carbon-neutral biofuels if they are shipped using fossil carbon?

Carly has a BA from Stanford and recently finished her MBA in sustainable management at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. Her interests revolve around sustainable food production, sports, renewable energy, finance, and sustainable business consulting. She lives in Oakland where she spends her spare time cycling, home brewing, gardening, cooking, and surfing (when she can make it over the bridge).

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