By George Webster for CNN
December 27, 2010 2:14 a.m. EST
London (CNN) -- With its long hull, towering masts and expansive sails, it resembles a schooner from the 19th century. But fitted with a series of high-tech features, this so-called "sail ship" is designed to cut carbon emissions on the high seas today.
Part of a fleet of carbon-neutral, wind-powered sail ships planned by Britain's B9 Energy, it's just one example of how companies are looking to the past for greener alternatives to the gas-guzzling vessels that transport the world's cargo.
When it comes to wind power replacing fuel in shipping vessels, "it's not a question of if, but when," according to David Surplus, the chairman of B9 Energy, Britain's largest windfarm operator.
"By most people's estimates, we have reached peak oil -- sooner or later the fuel will run out and there will simply be no alternative," said Surplus.
Roughly 87% of international trade is carried out by the shipping industry, figures from the International Maritime Organization show.
With the majority of world trade traveling by sea, the shipping industry is responsible for around 4% of global carbon emissions, according to the latest figures available from the United Nations.
B9 claims its vessel will be the first commercially produced merchant ship to harness alternative energy, but it certainly isn't alone in using old-fashioned sail boats to move goods.
"At the moment it's happening on a fairly small, fairly local scale," said Jan Lundberg, founder of Sail Transport Network, a group that promotes sailing as a means of eco-friendly, cost-efficient trade.
But the trend is growing, he said, pointing to examples like El Lago Coffee Company, which uses traditional sail boats to ship Guatemalan coffee beans to the United States, and the Sail Transport Company, a Seattle-based group that uses sailboats to deliver "petroleum-free organic produce."
B9's new eco-friendly ships, planned to be in production by 2012, signify a return to a much more traditional form of merchant shipping. Before diesel-powered steel tankers came to dominate the seas, international trade was conducted on vast, wooden sail ships.
The 100% carbon-neutral freighter will feature automated, self-adjusting sails that respond to minute changes in the wind to maximize propulsion. The boat will also take advantage of "skysail" technology -- a kite-styled towing system currently used on some cargo ships to improve fuel efficiency. …
Monday, February 7, 2011
Friday, February 4, 2011
Is our Milky Way galaxy home to other planets the size of Earth? Are Earth-sized planets common or rare? NASA scientists seeking answers to those questions recently revealed their discovery.
"We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone - a region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Some candidates could even have moons with liquid water," said William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and the Kepler Mission’s science principal investigator. "Five of the planetary candidates are both near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their parent stars."
Planet candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets.
"We have found over twelve hundred candidate planets - that’s more than all the people have found so far in history," said Borucki. "Now, these are candidates, but most of them, I’m convinced, will be confirmed as planets in the coming months and years."
The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to-date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size; 288 are super-Earth-size; 662 are Neptune-size; 165 are the size of Jupiter and 19 are larger than Jupiter. Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from super-Earth size -- up to twice the size of Earth -- to larger than Jupiter. The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to Sept. 17, 2009 of more than 156,000 stars in Kepler’s field of view, which covers approximately 1/400 of the sky.
"The fact that we’ve found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting stars like our sun in our galaxy," said Borucki. "Kepler can find only a small fraction of the planets around the stars it looks at because the orbits aren’t aligned properly. If you account for those two factors, our results indicate there must be millions of planets orbiting the stars that surround our sun."
“We’re about half-way through Kepler’s scheduled mission," said Roger Hunter, the Kepler project manager. "Today’s announcement is very exciting and portends many discoveries to come. It’s looking like the galaxy may be littered with many planets.”
Among the stars with planetary candidates, 170 show evidence of multiple planetary candidates, including one, Kepler-11, that scientists have been able to confirm that has no fewer than six planets.
"Another exciting discovery has been the tremendous variations in the structure of the confirmed planets – some have the density of Styrofoam and others are denser than iron. The Earth's density is in between."
"The historic milestones Kepler makes with each new discovery will determine the course of every exoplanet mission to follow," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. …