2011-04-01 "Greener Ferries Are Blowin’ in the Wind; Like car owners, ferry riders determined to green their commute have thus far had to settle for hybrid power" by Bill Picture from "Bay Crossings" newspaper
Like car owners, ferry riders determined to green their commute have thus far had to settle for hybrid power. While considerably better for the environment than their diesel-guzzling predecessors, hybrid ferries, like hybrid cars, have left some commuters wondering, “Is that really the best we can do?”
One person who isn’t satisfied is Jay Gardner, co-founder of Napa-based Adventure Cat, which has offered sailing adventures on the San Francisco Bay since 1991. For the last three years, Gardner and his Adventure Cat partner, Hans Korfin, working under their newly formed company, Wind+Wing Technologies, have been using their knowledge of sailing and the wind to develop a wind-powered ferry vessel that could put its hybrid-powered peers on the Bay to shame.
“Wind is a resource that we’re never short of out on the San Francisco Bay,” Gardner said. “We’re blessed with consistent, powerful winds.” In fact, the winds blowing through the Golden Gate are so reliable that 95 percent of the trips made by Adventure Cat’s catamarans are done under sail—that is, without the assistance of diesel motors.
“And reliability is very important, for both the ferry operators and the people who rely on those ferries to get where they need to go,” he said.
Wind vs. solar -
Ferry vessels running almost entirely on solar-and-wind-generated power produced by Australian company, Solar Sailor, are already being used to scoot passengers around Sydney Harbor and Shanghai. In March, sea trials also began in Hong Kong with a true commercial hybrid vessel propelled by wind power, solar power, stored electricity and fossil fuel. But there’s a major difference between Sydney, Hong Kong or Shanghai and San Francisco.
“The difference is that famous San Francisco fog,” Gardner said. Even on the foggiest day, enough sun manages to filter through the fast-moving blanket above our heads to power lights, televisions and laptops, and to charge our precious smart phones. It’s not enough, however, to produce the thrust required to move a several-hundred-ton vessel across the choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay, given existing solar technology limitations.
“Wind is a much better resource because its power is exponential,” Gardner explains. “When you double the speed of the wind, you quadruple its force. A 15-to-20 mile-per-hour wind is enough to fully power a ferry. That’s actually a light day on the Bay.”
Wind+Wing’s design replaces a traditional sail with a carbon-fiber wing similar in structure to an airplane’s. Two articulating pieces work in tandem to harness the wind’s power by creating either a flat surface to increase speed or a curved surface to generate power.
Rallying support -
Gardner and Korfin presented their design to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District last month, and proposed outfitting an existing vessel with one of their wings to test it out on the Bay. The winged vessel would shadow existing ferry routes to test maneuverability both on the water and at the docks, mechanical reliability and handling in heavy or unpredictable weather.
“The boat will also be outfitted with GPS, wind sensors and wind-angle indicators,” says Gardner. “We need to collect data on every route to find out how the wind behaves and how the boat behaves under a variety of conditions.”
Golden Gate’s board got behind the project, with one member calling the idea “fascinating.” Another board member, San Rafael Mayor Al Boro, told the Marin Independent Journal, “With lower fuel costs, you could drop the price of the ferry and get more people to ride the boat.” The prospect of significant savings has also helped Gardner and Korfin enlist the support of some of the region’s ferry operators, who are currently struggling with extreme fuel prices.
The U.S. Navy is also interested. As the single largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world, the Navy has a serious stake in finding an alternative. To that end, they’ve offered to loan one of their vessels to Wind+Wing. Now, Gardner and Korfin must come up with the $1 million they need to outfit the Navy’s vessel with a wing. To date, they’ve spent about $100,000 of their own money.
“State funding is disappearing, and federal money is disappearing,” said Gardner. “Now’s not the best time to have your hand out. What little money there is left out there has already been committed to other projects, for the most part. But things are happening, and we’re very encouraged.”
When asked what the chances are of coming up with the money by March 12, 2012, when the Navy proposes handing over its vessel to Wind+Wing, Gardner responds, “I’m 75 percent positive it’s going to happen. There’s a lot of good will behind this project, and desire to see it happen.”
For more information, visit www.windwingtech.com
Solar ferries produced by Solar Sailor have been used for years commercially in Australia’s Sydney Harbor. Photo courtesy of Solar Sailor
The first sea-trials of “Solar Albatross” took place last month in Hong Kong of Solar Sailor’s 24 meter 100 passenger carrying catamaran ferry with its stow-able SolarSails. Photo courtesy of Solar Sailor
Wind+Wing plans on fitting a vessel on loan from the Navy with a carbon-fiber wing and running tests following existing ferry routes used in the Bay Area. Artist rendering courtesy of Wind+Wing