Shipping waste the bright green way

Emission free ships, relying on sail power and batteries charged by wind energy, could be the answer to Northern Ireland's recycling problems, believes David Surplus of renewable energy company B9 Energy. He has teamed up with The Bright Green Shipping Company of Devizes in Wiltshire, England, to explore how its next generation of sailing ships could take waste materials from Northern Ireland to recycling facilities in Britain or Europe.

The ships would operate mostly under sail. But while entering or leaving harbour, they would run on batteries that would have been charged in port from "green" electricity bought under contract from a wind farm or other renewable supplier. Surplus claims this emission free method of transporting waste for recycling would help UK local authorities meet their Local Agenda 21 commitments. This is particularly relevant for Northern Ireland which lacks the strategic industrial base for recycling metal, glass and plastics, he says.

The scope for shifting goods by sail and wind power need not stop at waste, says Diane Gilpin from The Bright Green Shipping Company. They could shift any cargo where speed of transport is not the critical factor. "It is our belief that vessels of this type can be used in a myriad of ways in and around the UK," she says. "This may be in transporting waste for recycling or simply moving freight off roads and moving it by sea, helping the government to reach their carbon dioxide emissions target."

Jeff Allen, founder of The Bright Green Shipping Company, proved the concept of modern sail assisted transport of cargo with his first ship, the Atlantic Clipper, that operated between Plymouth and the Caribbean in the 1980s. The company is now in the final stages of arranging finance to build two more ships to operate between Canada and the Caribbean. These will carry foodstuffs, building materials and electrical goods. The maximum speed under sail will be 16 knots, but they will each have two 240hp engines to ensure they keep to schedules. Gilpin expects them to take a year to build, and they should be ready to start work in Canada next year.

Meanwhile, the company is still in the early stages of researching the market for its next generation of zero emission ships. "Our principal market has always been island archipelagos or coastal areas around the world," says Gilpin. "But because of the government's target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the market between Britain and Northern Europe offers exciting prospects."