Fukuoka: Japan is well known for its green tech prowess. Concept designs from the big companies such as NYK and MOL often look like Hollywood sci-fi creations. Nearly three-year-old Eco Marine Power is one of a number of companies in the country coming up with environmentally novel and creative solutions for ships. The difference with this firm is that one of its founders comes from another nation that prizes a clean environment, Australia.
Greg Atkinson is a director and founder of Eco Marine Power. Before forming Eco Marine Power in July 2010 he spent 12 years in the telecommunications industry, where he held senior management roles for a number of major multinational companies in Australia and Japan.
Prior to his career in the telecommunications sector, he served 10 years in the Royal Australian Navy in electronics engineering.
He has been living in Japan on and off since 1997 and is currently based in Fukuoka.
As befits the company name Eco Marine Power is currently developing a range of sustainable shipping related technologies and products.
These include the Aquarius MRE System, an advanced integrated system of rigid sails, solar panels, energy storage modules and other devices that will allow ships to tap into renewable energy by harnessing the power provided by the wind and sun. The system is fully automated and includes several layers of safety features.
“We are currently working on the computer control system,” says Atkinson, and will test the prototype in a lab in Osaka this year.”
Another product is the EnergySail, a rigid sail, which can either be used as part of the Aquarius MRE System or as stand-alone configuration. Primarily the EnergySail has been designed for large ships such as bulk ore carriers and oil tankers. Eco Marine Power has also started work on a version which could be used on passenger ferries, smaller ships and unmanned surface vessels.
Among other products from this groundbreaking firm is the Medaka Urban Commuter Ferry, a low emission solar-electric ferry concept able to operate quietly purely from a power stored in lithium-ion batteries at low speeds as well as a solar panel array.
Excitingly the company has also created a concept design – dubbed Aquarius Eco Ship – for a larger bulker or tanker that, says Atkinson, “brings together all our technologies and ideas”. This concept ship would use wind and solar power to bring around fuel savings of up to 40%.
Atkinson admits that in the current tough environment for shipping makes the case for investing in eco-designs a difficult proposition.
“Of course in the current environment costs are a major concern for ship owners, so it is difficult for many of them to bear the upfront extra cost for green/eco ship related technologies,” Atkinson says. He reckons its up to Eco Marine Power to reduce the cost burden plus present shipowners with a return on investment (ROI) timeframe that is appealing to them. Shipowners are also concerned about the safety and reliability of new technology, Atkinson says.
Nevertheless, the Eco Marine Power boss is adamant that the trend towards ecoships is more than just a craze even if the hype at times does undermine to some extent the very real shift towards making shipping more environmentally friendly.
“Those of us working with renewable energy and emission reduction technologies need to be careful not to over promise and under deliver,” stresses Atkinson.
In concluding, Atkinson says, “In 10 years time I am confident there still will be an ongoing trend towards more energy efficient and lower emission ships. It may have a new name, but the ecoship spirit will be alive and well.” [27/05/13]