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March 21, 2012

Solar Sailor | Dr Robert Dane

Dr Robert Dane is the brains behind the solar and wind powered Solar Sailor boat. In the early hours of the morning Dr Robert Dane had an idea for a revolutionary boat design. He thought it had the potential to change the world – he later quit his country practice to pursue his dream. Dr Robert Dane’s idea was to create a device that can harness wind and solar in a seaworthy manner. He came up with the idea of Solar Sails.

In 1997 Dr Robert Dane created a prototype boat called Marjorie K, which was built in 82 days and went on to win the advanced Advanced Technology Boat Race in Canberra. The original prototype Solarsails on Marjorie K were operated by a simple lever and pulley system – they were developed over the following years into what is now seen on the latest Solar Sailor vessel.

Robert Dane Tech Museum Awards Program

Solar Sailor is the first Australian company recognised by the Tech Museum Awards Program as a Laureate for its contribution to the Environment.

A Solarsail is a device fitted to a boat that can be angled to collect solar energy and/or wind power. By being pivotally mounted the solarsail can move through a wide rotational axis to optimally collect solar and wind energy. The Solarsails are now controlled by software that tracks the sun and wind to automatically angle the sails for optimal power with the ability to combine multiple solarsails in an array for larger vessels.

The technology has been moving ahead steadily and is now patented by Solar Sailor in 26 countries. Bob Hawke has been appointed the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Solarsailor.

According to Dr Robert Dane, “The moment that changed my life was when I was reading on an airplane on my way to a vacation on Whit Sundays, a cruising area for yachts. My book was explaining that ninety percent of the species on this earth are insects and, further, that ninety percent of insects fly. I was fascinated to learn that insects initially evolved wings as solar collectors and only thereafter used them to fly. .. …Insects evolved wings initially as solar collectors then used them to fly. So why not evolve wings on boats as solar collectors & use them to sail?”

The Solar Sailor Vessel

solar sailorThe first prototype boat to use the computer controlled solar sails was the Solarsailor. Originally used by Captain Cook Ferries in Sydney harbour the Solarsailor is now located in Newcastle and can be seen cruising the harbour for Rocksalt restaurant. The Solarsailor is a passenger ferry equipped with eight solarsails and has the ability to charge off the grid at night time. SolarSailor’s patented technology can harvest wind and solar energy on any vehicle and the company has developed hybrid marine power (HMP) technology for a variety of applications from small unmanned vessels, to ferries, cruisers and tankers.

Dr Robert Dane predicts that, “the future of maritime will be back to the future – with most vessels going back to sails – but solarsails which harness wind and sun energy and use both together. In fifty years time people will look back at the ships of the 20th Century and ask where are the wings?”

As well as having four hybrid ferries in Hong Kong for The Hong Kong Jockey Club, one in Shanghai and developing unmanned ocean vehicles with Forgacs Defence, SolarSailor is currently in negotiations with a large Australian mining company to use the solarsail technology in the building of new ships for mineral exports.

You can find more information on the Solar Sailor website.

Check out this footage of the Solar Sailor on Sydney Harbour and the original prototype Marjorie K.

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