The car is not the only vehicle that can be propelled electrically. Lecturers at the Higher Nautical and Naval Engineering Technical School, Mikel Lejarza, Jose Ignacio Uriarte, Miguel Ángel Gómez Solaetxe and Juan Luis Larrabe are part of a research team working on an innovative project: to have a sailing boat that can undertake port manoeuvres (such as mooring and unmooring) using electric energy obtained from the movement of the wind in their sails when sailing and thus reduce the use of fuel and the emission of waste and noise. Having the research skills in this field, they are working against the clock, given that their goal is to have the prototype operational in two years.
As Juan Luis Larrabe explained, the idea is for such vessels to take advantage of the energy from the wind movement in order to generate electricity: "The wind energy is gathered in the sails and the propeller operates as a turbine. This turbine is connected to an electric generator which charges up electric batteries in such a way that, when you want to propel the vessel and there is no wind, you can use this stored energy while avoiding using the internal combustion engine". It is a hybrid model and not exclusively electrical (the latter would mean reduced operational range, apart from the fact that the great volume of batteries required today would make it unviable). "You still have to have the traditional engines on board, but the idea is to use them as little as possible", explained Mr Larrabe.
Saltillo sail ship as a trial vessel
All the prototype equipment will be on board the Saltillo, a vessel belonging to the University of the Basque Country itself and with its base in the port of Santurtzi. It is 24m in length and has a displacement of 80 tons. They began the project in 2008, with funding from the Saiotek programme of the Basque Government Development Agency (SPRI), and which has financed the project in the last months of 2008 and all of 2009.
In this first phase, most of the theoretical work required by the project was undertaken. As Mr Larrabe stated, "in order to characterise the vessel from a mathematical perspective and draw up a preliminary design". That is to say, they calculated what the various elements taking part in the hybridisation of the boat should be - the hull, the propeller, the hull-propeller interaction, the electrical/electronic machinery and the internal combustion engine. Then they put all this data together to "carry out simulations with different strategies of hybridisation to find out which of these might be the most efficient, from a theoretical perspective, for this vessel". They have also designed a navigation course from the port and which will be used in upcoming and more practical stages of the project.
Effectively, the team aims to begin the second stage shortly, to validate in practical terms this work of theory-based design and choice. To this end, an energy audit has to be drawn up first, i.e. seeing what the fuel emissions and consumption are for the Saltillo with the diesel propulsion it currently runs on and studying the navigation course with a standardised operational profile. In this way they can compare this data with that obtained in the future and, in this same scenario, with the hybrid models that they have mathematically designed.
For this second simulation stage, the team will need the help of students from the school. Moreover, both for this phase as for the third - in which the prototype will be finalised -, it is essential to have funding. To this end, they are looking to collaboration with ancillary enterprises in the Basque naval engineering sector, a sector for which the project is a highly interesting one given that, as Mr Larrabe reminds us, "it could well be a new business model for a sector that is none too healthy".
The hybrid vessel proposed by the team would have various advantages when the project finally gets under way. Apart from the evident ecological and economic benefits - these related to fuel savings -, those referring to safety have to be also considered. Outstanding in this section is the fact that the manoeuvres of the vessel are more reliable, having various available sources of energy, in case of any incident arising. As Mr Larrabe explained, "now we will have energy stored in different ways; in batteries, but also as has been done traditionally, with fossil fuel. In this way we gain in safety".