Sails on ships aren’t anything new. Heck, we’ve been following this “new” technology on cargo ships since 2005. It’s time for our almost annual check-in on how modern ships are using an old tech solution to improve their efficiency. Here’s some additional context for you:
It’s been neat seeing this develop over the last 15 years! The hybrid model is working out well and more companies are embracing it.
At the most recognisable end of the wind-assist spectrum are innovations in soft sail systems. The increasing sophistication of automation and route optimisation systems have revived interest in seafaring’s original power source, and there are now a growing number of examples of larger vessels using smart soft sails alongside auxiliary propulsion systems. In one notable development, French naval architect VPLP recently unveiled a design for a 121 metre long roll-on/roll-off (RORO) vessel that will be used to transport components of the Ariane 6 rocket from Europe to Guiana. The ship’s main propulsion system (a dual fuel LNG MDO engine) will be assisted by four Oceanwings; fully automated wing-sails which are each supported by a 30m high mast and measuring a total of 363 square meters.
In 2007 we looked at SkySails when they were still in the startup phase of their company and today they have signed a large deal with Cargill, a large shipping company. Cargill will use SkySails starting later this year to save up to 30% of their fuel costs.
SkySails are a sails that attach to the front of the boat to help tow a boat along in open seas. The use of a rather large sail helps lower transportation costs while lowering the shipping industry’s impact on the environment.
Plans are in place next December to install one of these giant kites on a handysize vessel of between 25,000 and 30,000 deadweight tonnes, which the company has on long-term charter, making it the largest vessel propelled by a kite in the world. It is hoped to have this system fully operational in the first quarter of 2012.
G.J. van den Akker, head of Cargill’s ocean transportation business, said that “the shipping industry currently supports 90 percent of the world’s international physical trade. In a world of finite resources, environmental stewardship makes good business sense.” A recent United Nations study cited by Cargill says that up to 100 million tons of carbon dioxide could be saved every year by the broad application of the SkySails’ technology on the world merchant fleet.
The SkySails system consists of a towing kite with rope, a launch and recovery system and a control system for the whole operation. The control system acts like the autopitot systems on an aircraft, the company says. Autopilot software sends and receives data about the sail etc to make sure the sail is set at its optimal position.
The company also says it provides an optional weather routing system so that ships can sail into optimal wind conditions.The kites typically fly at about 1,000 feet above sea level, thereby tapping winds that can be almost 50% stronger than at the surface.
I have to admit that whenever I read about “new” ideas that are really improved old ideas that we forgot in this modern age I can’t help but think there is a wealth of historical knowledge we have yet to improve upon. We are learning from the past and combining it with the future though! Take for example the ingenious idea of using a sail on a boat, or a “new” approach to gathering energy (wind). Indeed these new approaches do improve on the original idea and do so while being cheaper than the current finite resource-based approach to energy. They also tend to combine different sources of renewable energy.
The concept is the brainchild of Robert Dane, an Australian doctor from the small fishing town of Ulladulla in New South Wales. A keen sailor and rower, Dane was watching a solar-powered boat race in Canberra in 1996 and noted that the winning boat used a solar panel inclined towards the sun. The only problem was that as the wind grew stronger the panel became a hazard and had to be pulled down.
“It intrigued me, and I started wondering how one could combine sun and wind to power a modern, seaworthy boat,” Dane says. “And then one day six months later, I woke up one morning and realized that I could use a wing sail that was at the same time a solar collector.
“SkySails’ system consists of an enormous towing kite and navigation software that can map the best route between two points for maximum wind efficiency. In development for more than four years, the system costs from roughly $380,000 to $3.2 million, depending on the size of the ship it’s pulling. SkySails claims it will save one third of fuel costs.”