Nissan Unveils "World's First" Spherical Prow Cargo Ship to Transport LEAFs With Less Emissions

By · December 30, 2010

Nissan lower emissions cargo ship, The City of St. Petersburg

Although most of us often tend to think about our "stuff" and its associated impacts as starting from the moment we begin using it, the fact of the matter is all of our "stuff" has racked up a laundry list of environmental, societal, and economic impacts far before the moment we take possession of it.

Case in point: even though the Nissan LEAF is the most fuel efficient and least polluting mass-produced vehicle on the planet—giving those of us that drive it, or aspire to, beaucoup bragging rights—none of them are currently made here in the U.S., so they all must be shipped from Japan. The cargo ships that transport them are notorious for pollution. In fact, one recent study concluded that a mere 15 of the world's largest ships could emit as much pollution as all the world's 760 million cars—a staggering result.

Although these numbers are attributable to only one study—far from conclusive—it is enough to start you thinking there must be ways to reduce emissions from these ships while still maintaining their economic viability. Much of the pollution in the ships comes from the use of heavy fuel oil, also know as bunker fuel. This fuel is literally the bottom of the barrel and contains orders of magnitude higher levels of pollutants and toxins than the fuels used on land. Regulations have started cropping up around the globe to restrict the use of this type of fuel close to shore—including in California—and Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world, has targeted a fleet-wide 20% reduction in emissions by 2017, partly by using biofuel blends as well as supporting a carbon tax.

But there are other ways to reduce emissions besides changing the fuel mix, and Nissan, in an effort to reduce its own fleet emissions, has unveiled a 21,000 ton, 2,000 vehicle capacity cargo ship that uses a spherical prow to reduce wind drag and increase efficiency—thereby reducing emissions. Called "The City of St. Petersburg" Nissan's new ship will be put into operation taking vehicles from the company's plants in England and Spain to Northern Europe and Russia.

"You can say that the ship’s spherical prow design is the world’s first," said Satoshi Yako, Nissan's Senior Manager, of Supply Chain Management, in an NTD TV post. "Thanks to this aerodynamic design we expect to see a substantial reduction in the ship’s fuel consumption.”

While it's certainly far from optimal, it's at least a step in the right direction... too bad it won't be transporting LEAFs from Japan to the U.S. between now and 2012 when the Smyrna, Tennessee LEAF/battery operation commences manufacturing and we can all buy LEAFs made in the U.S. and transported by the much less polluting methods of train and semi truck.

Hat tip to the MyNissanLEAF forum for bringing this to our attention. Find the original forum thread here.


· Ben Brown (not verified) · 7 years ago


I wonder if you could mention to Nissan, that hi-tech computer controlled high altitude kite sails can reduce shipping fuel consumption approximately 30% with potential for even better savings in the near future.


· · 7 years ago

Ben, I've seen that tech—and even written about it before. It was my understanding that it's not quite ready for primetime, as GE says in a report from March 2010:

I'm sure that when it's out of the "exploratory phase" many shipping companies will use it because it saves them money and fuel.

· · 7 years ago

Step 1: Load up ship with 2,000 EVs.
Step 2: Connect EV batteries to ship's motors
Step 3: Cruise as far as you can on 48 megawatt-hours of electricity!

Which would, I think, be about 30 minutes worth for a ship that size :)

· · 7 years ago

Smidge, Ha! Just enough to get it out of port, which would be great for near shore emissions, actually.

· · 7 years ago

Sounds like the ships are not outfitted with pollution devices like cat converters.

· Nasdram (not verified) · 7 years ago

The is a company already producting the kite sails in Germany.
Beluga sky Sails. Your site wont let me post the link, just google for it if you are interested

· · 7 years ago

Mind boggling that it has taken us hundreds of years that the most optimum shape of a ship is not a square box.

· Priusmaniac (not verified) · 7 years ago

I think this is similar:
Choose english and view the movies, They are straight forward and very clear.
Appart from standard sailships there are also wingsail ships like the Zefyr, rotor ships like the E-Ship 1 and turbosail ships like the Alcyone.
Beside there is of course the solar boat like the planet solar.
And the combi: a wingsail plus solar panels like the Volitan.

· · 7 years ago

As I said, I think the shipping industry still views sail tech as "experimental." These companies are all about dollars and sense though, if they can find a way to even shave 0.5% off their fuel costs they will... not many of them want to try new technology though. Once a few years of "experiments" are done, then we'll see the others hop on board. I think a tech like spherical prow is more acceptable immediately because it is still a ship made of metal requiring no new training, materials, or strategies.

· · 7 years ago

I am afraid the shipping companies behave the same like the big auto producers. New technology practically needs to be forced upon them.

I am really curious how much the "substantial" reduction in fuel consumption due to the spherical bow is.

· · 7 years ago

Ya know... if they could just hang a little paddle wheel off the side hooked to a generator....


I, too, am interested in how much "substantial" translates to.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago

i'd add some solar panels too! lol

· Anonymous (not verified) · 7 years ago


"optimum" depends on the point of view... round shapes may be optimum (relatively to square) to reduce drag, but may not be most optimum to store a boxy car. otherwise one could designed a tube shape like a sub.

i'd imagine the biggest drag is where water meets the boat. but i'm sure they already got that figured out.

· Pinkrose (not verified) · 6 years ago

From what I can tell from the images shown, it appears that the crew quarters are in the bow and the cargo and engine are in the rest of the ship.

· Pinkrose (not verified) · 6 years ago

From what I can tell from the images shown, it appears that the crew quarters are in the bow and the cargo and engine are in the rest of the ship.

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