Friday, October 23, 2015

Petrochemical-Free Cruising

Last month at the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend I attended an interesting presentation by Capt. Peter Wilcox, Master Mariner and President of Columbia Riverkeeper. His subject was "NOAA's Green Ships Show the Way for Northwest Boaters", subtitled "Long-term test results of 100% biodiesel and biolubricants, state of the art electric power and the future of low impact, low carbon boating".

Capt. Wilcox started by detailing what the effect is on the oceans and their inhabitants from the acidifying effects of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. Most of this carbon dioxide ends up in the ocean either directly or via rivers. This upsets the balance of nutrients, oxygen and clean water that most marine life needs to survive. Some of that marine life is under threat of extinction.

in 2009 he launched the motor-sailer "Ama Natura" for cruising and exploring the inside passage, built for him by Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. His boat was equipped to operate totally free from petroleum derived products. He followed the example and practices developed by NOAA for their fleet of green ships on the Great Lakes. NOAA have also assisted in the conversion of other vessels and the program now covers more than 200 NOAA and commercial vessels across the USA.
"Ama Natura" - Photo courtesy of Capt. Peter Wilcox
The NOAA green ships program was initiated in 1999, through the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL). Their vessels run on B100, biodiesel derived 100% from soy, a renewable energy source. In addition to the fuel, all of the lubrication and hydraulic products used on these vessels are plant-derived, from soy, rapeseed and canola oils.

Benefits that NOAA has seen from this program are numerous.

 Environmental & Social Benefits
✦ Decreases emissions of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change and air pollution
✦ Lessens risk of environmental harm in the event of a fuel spill
✦ Reduces dependence on imported oil
✦ Supports agriculture and the U.S. economy
Operational Benefits
✦ Improves engine performance
✦ Extends engine life
✦ Reduces need for engine maintenance due to cleaning properties of biodiesel
✦ Reduces operating and maintenance costs by 20-40% vs. petroleum-based fuels
Human Health Benefits
✦ Reduces exposure to harmful and cancer-causing chemicals
✦ Reduces seasickness due to less offensive odor

Biodiesel is cleaner than petroleum-based diesel, which is behind many of the benefits. These show in longer lifespan of injectors, fuel pumps and filters, also in reduced or disappearing cleaning costs for tanks, fuel lines and other components of the fuel system.
Washington State ferry "Spokane" runs on biodiesel
The emissions reductions of biodiesel compared with diesel, as reported by NOAA, are impressive.
✦ Total unburned hydrocarbons -77%
✦ Carbon monoxide -48%
✦ Particulate matter -59%
✦ Nitrogen oxide -7%
✦ Sulfates -74%
✦ Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon -66%

Biodiesel can be made from many plant sources, so can be adapted to the most suitable renewable crop or waste material. Used cooking oil can also be filtered and reprocessed to produce biodiesel, for a very cost-effective fuel. GLERL has seen a 20-40% reduction in operating costs on its fleet since converting to biodiesel and other bio products.

For more information on the NOAA program, read the NOAA Green Ships Initiative.

Biodiesels continue to be developed. Second generation formulations offer longer stability, higher octane ratings and lower waste. Biolubricants are also improving, allowing 100% improvement in oil life.

The NOAA clean ships program appears to be a good one, with major long-term benefits for the world in general and for boaters in particular.

Dudley Dix