Maritime transport generates more CO2 than aviation. This solar-powered boat could change that


Written by Eva Rothenberg, CNN

During his first days at sea on the MS Porrima, Gunter Pauli was stunned by the silence aboard his solar-powered vessel.

“When you don’t have an engine running, there’s silence. There’s a real sense of admiration and resilience, and you have plenty of time to think,” said the Belgian entrepreneur and economist during of a telephone interview. “There’s a clear feeling of, ‘Oh my God, I’m vulnerable – I better use what I have with care.'”

Efficient use of limited resources is the basic philosophy behind the Porrima, a concept boat centered on environmental research, which aims to show how sustainable technology could revolutionize the shipping industry.

Maritime transport represents more than 80% of world trade, but it disrupts marine ecosystems, contributes to ocean acidification and generates more CO2 emissions each year than aviation.

The ship set sail with a small crew from Osaka, Japan on Dec. 18 and is expected to make dozens of calls on five continents. He will complete a three-year world tour before returning to Japan in time for the 2025 World Expo.

The MS Porrima pictured in March during a scheduled stopover in Dubai. Credit: Audrey Miller

Art Design Inspirations

The vessel is a case study in sustainability. A miniature farm allows Pauli to cultivate edible spirulina algae and mushrooms below deck, while air bubble nets prevent overfishing by separating fish by weight and then releasing breeding females, which have tend to be heavier due to their eggs. As well as being largely powered by solar panels, the ship will soon be fitted with a filter that isolates and concentrates nanoplastics from seawater and converts them into hydrogen.

Pauli believes the design features aboard the 118-foot-long, 79-foot-wide vessel are just as important as green power generation when it comes to promoting Porrima’s environmental message.

The interiors of Porrima’s two main rooms, the VIP Suite and the Main Lobby, were inspired by an eclectic mix of Russian matryoshka dolls, Japanese origami and Swiss Army knives.

With limited space on board, the dolls inspired a series of storage solutions that easily slide and nest inside each other to save space. The intricacy of origami, meanwhile, is replicated in various shelves, seats, and tables that can fold surreptitiously into the walls like drawers. Finally, the adaptability of the Swiss army knife is found in the multi-purpose main room, which can be transformed into a classroom, exhibition space, library or refectory.

These three influences may seem disparate at first glance, but Pauli said they are linked through the efficient and creative use of minimal materials. He used everyone’s ideas to “transform” the insides of the Porrima, he added.

“The vessel is a compact set of practical tools integrated into a single unit,” Pauli said. But it is also, he adds, drawing inspiration from art.

Believing that “a great artist is a great antenna in society”, Pauli modeled his design on the notion of the “third paradise” of the famous painter and theorist Michelangelo Pistoletto, which proposes a balanced convergence of nature and technology. For his part, the 88-year-old Italian artist, who also spoke to CNN, believes that the ship offers “the possibility” of realizing his concept.

“The climate crisis is the situation we find ourselves in after our technology evolves, but the freer we are, the further we go, the more responsible we have to be,” Pistoletto said over the phone. “And art is the interplay of autonomy and responsibility.”

Pistoletto is among several artists whose work will be displayed inside the ship, which he described as “the reintegration of technology into nature”.

For Pauli, this sense of responsibility – for the environment and the communities that bear the brunt of unsustainable practices – has been the driving force behind the project. “We did too much analysis (on environmental issues), and too much analysis on the problem often leads to paralysis. is also well below what is possible.

“We can’t just improve on what we have,” he said. “You have to use your conscience and your creativity to imagine the next thing and the next thing can’t be a simple improvement. So I decided to start creating projects that were considered impossible.”

mission to educate

Interactive education is at the heart of the Porrima’s three-year journey. During several of his stops around the world, Pauli hopes to connect with members of the public, academics and industry leaders while teaching them about ship design. The main hall, once transformed into a classroom, will be used to introduce children to the innovations on board, in the hope of inspiring future generations.

The MS Porrima pictured in Osaka, Japan, before departing.

The MS Porrima pictured in Osaka, Japan, before departing. Credit: Blue Odyssey by MS Porrima / Handout

But Pauli also hopes to inspire change in the immediate future, with some of the ship’s technology set to spread to the shipping industry. By 2024, Pauli said, his nanoplastic filters are expected to be installed on a thousand ships in the Mediterranean Sea to launch a larger-scale clean-up campaign. And by 2025, Morocco is expected to launch a fleet of vessels equipped with Pauli’s bubble-fishing technology, he added.

“It’s not enough to invent something. Once you’ve done something unique, democratize it and make it available,” he said, adding, “There’s a sense of empowerment when you realize that this technology can really be used to help communities that rely on unsustainable practices.”

Top image caption: Aerial view of MS Porrima


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