- A Filipino marine engineer is building a hybrid trimaran, powered by both a traditional motor and wave energy, as an alternative to the decades-old shipping vessels that ply transnational routes in the Visayas region in the Philippines.
- The Philippines’ transport sector is the second-biggest contributor to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to a large fleet of aging ships burning dirty fuel.
- The multi-hull boat now being built is expected to move more efficiently on the sea, cut average travel times by half, and have a lower carbon footprint.
MANILA — The hundreds of islands that make up the Visayas region in the central Philippines are connected by a vast fleet of decades-old cargo and passenger ships. These vessels are vital for moving goods and people but have long been considered major polluters of this biodiverse region, and contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
But a new technology seeks to address this problem: a trimaran, a fast-sailing boat, that generates some of its power from the waves.
While ships carry 90% of the world’s trade, they also produce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter as they burn the “dirtiest of fuels,” according to German environmental watchdog Nabu.
In the Philippines, the marine industry is already struggling to reduce the sulfur levels of its fuel oil to meet the new cap imposed by the International Maritime Organization. In 2007, maritime and aviation transport accounted for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions in the Philippines, the second-biggest contributor after the energy sector.
But among all modes of transport, shipping is the most environmentally sound, says Jonathan Salvador, the marine engineer behind Metallica Shipyard, the group that’s attempting to build the country’s first hybrid trimaran.
“Marine transport can move large amounts of cargo while emitting a small amount of carbon emissions,” he tells Mongabay. “If you move one ton of cargo one kilometer away, you only produce three grams of gas emission. If you use an airplane, you produce 560 grams [of emissions] per kilometer,” he says, referring to Danish shipping company Maersk Line’s computation of carbon emissions by mode of transportation.
One significant factor adds to the emissions burden: most Philippine vessels are old, operating for more than 30 years, and are prone to metal fatigue, Salvador says. They are also far from being fuel-efficient and most would not pass international maritime safety standards, he adds.
“In the country’s current situation, there is an urgent need for an overhaul in the maritime industry,” Salvador says. His answer to that need is the hybrid trimaran, the first of its kind in the Philippines to be powered by both gasoline and ocean waves.
After working for a foreign shipping company and seeing firsthand how European countries harness wave energy, Salvador was inspired to create a Filipino boat that could elevate shipping standards in the country. He secured funding from the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology (DOST) for his project and started building the vessel in his home province of Aklan.
The decision to fund the 87 million peso ($1.7 million) trimaran was to boost science and economic empowerment in the Visayas region, says Enrico Paringit, director of the DOST’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD).
“This hybrid fast craft addresses the growing concern of increased CO2 emissions through the use of hydraulic pumps that harvest energy from the ocean waves,” Paringit tells Mongabay.
The trimaran transforms waves into energy through double-action hydraulic pumps integrated in its outriggers. As the pumps move through the waves, they generate electricity that provides auxiliary power to the vessel, which is driven primarily by a regular gasoline motor.
The stronger the waves that the vessel encounters, the more power will be produced, Paringit says. “This technology is expected to improve the vessel’s energy efficiency making it not only cost-efficient but also environment friendly.”
The ship’s “independent multi-engine technology at minimum 3000hp drive shaft sea class” is combined with a wave energy device that’s capable of generating up to 300kw/h of energy, Salvador explains.
Salvador says the goal is to make the craft fast and highly efficient, which is why they opted for the multi-hull design. This way, it will have better fuel consumption and lower emissions, Salvador says, while being able to transport passengers in half the time it takes a normal ferry. Once operational, the hybrid trimaran is expected to be able to accommodate more than 100 passengers, four vans and 15 motorcycles.
A shorter ride would also mean less garbage accumulated by passengers; the Philippines is one of the top sources of plastic trash in the oceans.
“Our garbage generation is terrible. Everything goes to the sea,” Salvador says, adding that some ship captains resort to dumping trash in the ocean instead of declaring and paying for disposal upon arriving at port.
Salvador’s trimaran design acknowledges the problem: its frame incorporates recycled soft drink containers to help with buoyancy.
But more than being a trailblazer in the local maritime industry, the goal of the project is to train local experts on ship design and construction, DOST’s Paringit says, which could lead the way to more science-based initiatives in the future.
Once the prototype is finished, Salvador says it will visit different islands in the Philippines to promote the hybrid technology, which he sees as the key to accommodating the growing transport needs of the archipelagic country while balancing the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The goal is to complete construction this year. Once that happens, the Philippines will be “first to use wave energy for a trimaran,” Salvador says. Later on, he aims to standardize the model, but first, he plans to test it out in Boracay, the most popular tourist island in the Philippines, which is also in Aklan province.
“This brings significant changes to the Ro-Ro [roll-on, roll-off] shipping industry, encouraging economic growth, and offering a green alternative in the maritime sector,” Paringit says.
Banner image of the hybrid trimaran. Image courtesy of DOST.
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