All over the world there are experiments in sustainable technology - modern cargo ships with augmenting sail power, electric boats powered by the sun, trading boats powered by the wind alone. Now there is a move to partly power a ferry boat with sail power, and it's being tested right now in San Francisco.
San Francisco Bay is being used to test a one-of-a-kind wind sail that could end up powering ferry boats. The objective is to reduce fuel use and air pollution.
The 40-foot sail is made of carbon fiber making it light. The design is sleek to help propel any vessel. One day it could be used on a ferry boat carrying hundreds of commuters. The boats would use both wind and diesel.
'The wing technology allows us to take some of the propulsion that would normally be provided by diesel engines, off line and reduce about 40 percent of the greenhouse gases that come from diesel,' Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesperson Damian Breen told ABC Local.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the California Air Resources Board, along with some private groups, are funding the $350,000 testing phase taking place on the catamaran. The wing sail is powered by the sun. It has a 14-by-14 inch solar cell. The sensors on the very top are connected to a small computer.
Richard Jenkins designed it in Alameda. He says there is no better place than the bay to try out the technology.
'It is one of the few locations in the world which has a perfect angle to the wind, the reliability of the wind,' he said. 'It's the best place to test this technology.'
Jim Swindler from Golden Gate Ferry was invited to test out the wind-assisted catamaran.
'It would save a lot of fuel, but again we have to weigh the savings against reliability that our customers depend on,' he said.
According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, a single ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito burns about $2 million of fuel a year. They say any kind of technology that would cut down on costs and pollution is worth considering.