Greening the Fleet


In 2010, as carbon emissions produced by human activities rose well over 3% in the U.S. to 5,638 million metric tons of CO2, the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) decided to explore ways to make their fleet’s present and future more environmentally sustainable. UNOLS began to promote the goal of “greening the fleet,” which is exploring the technologies and best practices to develop and maintain more efficient research vessels. The Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) at URI has taken this goal to heart, and research is currently underway to make their vessel, the R/V Endeavor, one of the most eco-friendly ships in the nation’s academic fleet.

Though the economic and environmental benefits of upgrading the ship’s equipment remain to be seen, the Endeavor’s use of B5 biodiesel substantially lowers its harmful emissions. The fuel for the ship’s 3,000 horsepower engine and three diesel generators is locally produced by Newport Biodiesel, and due to surging petroleum prices, costs slightly less per gallon than regular diesel. The ship also uses 100% biofuel to power its hydraulic systems, negating the impact of ship waste on data collection and giving researchers more confidence in their work.

The Greening of the Endeavor project has extended efforts aimed at creating an energy-efficient, sustainable campus at the GSO, and the University is actively soliciting private and corporate support to achieve project goals. However, the true intention of this essay is to inform the boating community on cost-efficient ways to green their operations.

In order to quantify the Endeavor’s carbon footprint, an energy efficiency formula, called the Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator, was used to relate fuel type, cargo mass and fuel consumption. With the EEOI formula and the Endeavor’s bridge logs, an accurate estimation of the ship’s carbon emissions was determined. This number, calculated on a per-voyage basis, served as a baseline for measuring operational improvements.

For recreational boaters, one gallon of gasoline used is equivalent to 20 lbs. of CO2 emitted. It’s startling to see how quickly CO2 emissions can add up, but there are simple ways to decrease this number.

The following are just a few basic ways to get you started increasing your overall efficiency on any cruise, hopefully leading to reduced costs and increased performance. First, limit the amount of weight you regularly carry onboard. Extra weight forces your vessel deeper into the water, increasing the frictional surface area, which slows you down and decreases fuel efficiency. Second, installing an autopilot can yield on-course savings by keeping your heading on a straighter line to your destination. Third, regularly clean your hull, especially all control surfaces (keels and rudders). A buildup of biological fouling will increase drag, thereby increasing fuel consumption. Finally, purchase a high efficiency propeller that suits your average operations, keeping in mind that certain propellers are made for certain situations.

The Department of Energy defines biodiesel as “a domestically produced, renewable fuel that can be manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled restaurant greases.” It can be used in diesel engines with only initial modifications to seals and filters, due to biodiesel’s solvent effect on natural rubber and accumulated engine deposits. However, newer engines use polymers instead of natural rubber and can be converted more easily. Depending on its intended use, biodiesel can be used as a pure fuel or blended with petroleum diesel in any percentage. The Endeavor’s eventual goal of B20 (20% biodiesel, 80% diesel) will significantly reduce CO2 and other harmful emissions.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is an EPA program which ensures that transportation fuel sold in the U.S. contains a minimum amount of renewable fuel. However, early concerns regarding the storage and use of biodiesel led to very conservative regulations that currently do not apply to marine fuel. With U.S. commercial consumption of marine diesel estimated at 2.25 billion gallons per year, marine-use biodiesel could potentially be a large market in a national biodiesel industry.

Companies like Newport Biodiesel form partnerships with local restaurants and produce clean-burning, sustainable fuel from waste vegetable oil. Here are a few cost-efficient ways to go green: • Optimize engine RPM (increases fuel economy on longer trips). • Run lean (excess weight can slow you down). • Limit hydrodynamic drag (keep your bottom clean). • Upgrade to CFL/LED lighting (up to 11x as long-lasting as incandescent bulbs). • Install an onboard fuel computer (monitoring fuel consumption is an easy way to identify inefficiencies). • Invest in alternative energy sources like solar panels, hydrogenerators and wind turbines.

This Ocean Watch Essay originally appeared on the Sailors for the Sea website and is reprinted with permission. Visit sailorsforthesea.org for more information.

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