Solar Sailor Harnesses Wind and Sun to Clean Up Cargo Ships


In a previous post, I discussed aerodynamic kites to harness wind power for driving watercraft.  Solar Sailor has taken that idea a step further. 

Solar Sailor is an Australian company that makes Hybrid Marine Power (HMP) solar sails, which use hybrid electric technology to harness both wind and solar power for large watercraft.  The technology allows the sails to be angled to maximize wind and solar efficiency.

This Ecogeek article reports that Solar Sailor recently entered into an agreement with COSCO, the largest Chinese shipping line, to fit their cargo ships with large HMP solar sails. 

The sails are 30 meters long and covered with solar photovoltaic panels.  According to Ecogeek, the solar panels will provide 5 percent of the ships’ electricity, and the sails will harness enough wind to reduce fuel costs by 20-40%.

The HMP system can be configured in a “series” hybrid layout so the ship is powered entirely by electricity from a generator and batteries, with energy supplied by the solar cells.  Alternatively, a “parallel” hybrid layout is powered by both internal combustion engines and electric motors.

Solar Sailor owns a few patents and pending patent applications relating to its solar sail technology.  U.S. Patent No. 6,105,524 is directed to pivoting wing sails that can be rotated around their longitudinal axes and/or laterally declined to best take advantage of wind and sunlight conditions.

International Application WO 2005/012079 (‘079 application) relates to an unmanned watercraft with a hybrid solar and wind energy propulsion system.


The system of the ‘079 application includes a wing sail (503) covered with photovoltaic cells (504) which supply electrical energy to an energy storage means (511) such as batteries or capacitors.  The energy storage means supplies DC power to an electric motor/generator (510) which drives a propeller (512).

As the Ecogeek piece points out, technology like this for cargo ships, and decisions to implement it by companies like COSCO, is very important because the shipping industry often escapes environmental regulation due to its critical role in the global economy.

Eric Lane Avatar

Eric Lane

Eric Lane, the founder and principal of Green Patent Law, is an intellectual property lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney in New York and is a member of the bar in New York and California. Eric has more than two decades of experience working with wind, solar PV, CSP, biofuels, and geothermal, energy storage technologies, carbon capture and sequestration, medical devices, data communications, mechanical, chemical, internet and software.