Puget Sound takes leadership role in green ship biz

The Puget Sound area is home to as many innovative technology companies as environmental organizations.  When the two groups collide, the results can often be explosive – witness the 1999 WTO protests.

But the days when technology companies could ignore environmental issues is long gone.  Today the Seattle metropolitan area boasts a growing number of firms engaged in all variety of alternative energy and the products that reduce technology’s impact on nature.

Puget Sound has a long history of shipbuilding and as you might expect, today’s shipbuilders are looking for ways to incorporate green technology into all manner of vessels.

Nichols Brothers Boat Builders of Freeland, WA recently delivered a passenger ferry, dubbed “The Gemini”, to  the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, in San Francisco, California.  The ferry, called ”one of the most environmentally friendly ferries in the country,”  burns a blend of bio-diesel and ultra-low-sulfur fuel.   The boat’s emissions are 85 percent lower than standards set for marine passenger vessels by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But just reducing emissions isn’t their only goal. 

They’d like to eliminate them altogether.  The Gemini is outfitted with two solar panels mounted on an upper deck to determine whether or not solar power alone is feasible.  In its current configuration, the small but speedy 116 foot ferry can carry 149 passengers and reach speeds of 25 miles per hour.   

The boat is also designed to produce a minimal wake and therefore cause less shore erosion.    

Across the Sound from Freeland, Foss Maritime Co. of Seattle has developed a tugboat that consumes less diesel and generates less emissions by incorporating batteries for all the ship’s low-power needs.  It has been called the world’s first hybrid tug and it is set for delivery to the Port of Los Angeles early next year.

Tests have shown that by converting to hybrid a tug’s particulate and nitrogen-oxide pollution can be cut nearly in half.  That’s good enough to get the attention of environmental groups who are some of the harshest critics of the busy L.A. seaport.  In fact, the tug design was awarded the EPA’s Clean Air Excellence Award for Clean Air Technology in 2008.

The future of green shipbuilding in Seattle does seems bright indeed.

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