Much ado and attention has been paid to the pollutants emmitted from the tail pipes of cars and trucks in recent years, both here in the U.S. and across the pond in Europe. With an estimated 250 million passenger vehicles in the U.S. alone, it would seem that cars would be a major contributor to pollution and air quality issues here and abroad. But newly released data from Europe suggests that a single container ship may cause as much pollution as 50 million cars and release as much as 5,000 tons of sulfur oxide into the air annually, contributing heavily to global warming. And there are 90,000 such ships of varying sizes across the world at any one time.

This has raised the ire of many an environmentalists both in Europe, which has many of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and the U.S., where the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that as many as 60,000 deaths a year can be attributed to coastal pollution from container ships. The Emma Maersk, the longest operating cargo ship in the world, is about 1,300 feet from bow to stern and can carry as many as 11,000 twenty-foot metal shipping containers. All that baggage requires a massive 14 cylinder, 109,000 horsepower diesel motor that consumes 1,660 gallons of heavy oil fuel an hour even at its most efficient setting. These motors are among the most efficient in the world too, with a thermal efficiency rating around 50%, where the average car or airplane motor has thermal efficiency of just 25-30% at best.

It isn’t so much the motors that are causing the pollution as it is the heavy oil fuel, the lowest quality fuel available, which makes shipping across the ocean both cost-efficient and damaging to the environment. These ships operate 24 hours a day, 280 days a year, essentially becoming floating pollution factories that are absolutely necessary to the world economy. But unlike cars, you can’t demand smaller ships or more efficient engines since they already return half the energy in the fuel back into propelling power. My solution; bring back sails. Big sails.

With boats the length of a quarter-mile drag strip there is room enough for dozens of sails placed from bow to stern to catch the wind and assist in moving these leviathans. Maybe. I’m no engineer, but humanity had circumnavigated the world long before steam engines by just using the power of the wind. Whats more, the Maersk burns a gallon of fuel every 28 feet, which makes the Hummer look like a moped in terms of fuel consumption.

Even if the sails were just used to get the ships away from port, that would represent a major reduction in pollution since 70% of ship emissions are within 400km of land and fuel consumption. The average trans-Atlantic trip can consume as much as 200,000 gallons of heavy oil fuel. The EPA has plans of creating a “buffer zone” near land for low-emissions shipping by reducing the sulfur in fuel by 98% (the average car emits about 101 grams of sulfur annually compared to the 5,000 tons of a large container ship). The European Union has proposed two such emissions restricted shipping lanes too, but with less stringent regulations than the proposed U.S. zones.

Hey, we already have pirates, why not bring back galleons and side-paddlers too while we are at it?

Source: The Guardian