Using wind energy for cargo shipping

This is the great – and yet very simple – idea developed by a German company, SkySails. The container ship pictured on the left uses one of the oldest inventions: a simple kite.

According to SkySails, this enables to decrease by 10 to 35 percent the energy consumption of these boats, which are largely used for freight transport worldwide.

As oil prices are at high levels, this simple technology might save millions of barrels per year, and thus decrease a bit greenhouse gases emissions.

The first commercial voyage is currently taking place between Germany and Venezuel. Deutsche Welle notes :

The world’s first kite-powered cargo ship set sail on Tuesday, Jan. 22, from Germany to Venezuela. Its makers hope to prove that using earth-friendly energy can also mean saving a fortune.

Sailboats are anything but modern — unless we’re talking about the MS Beluga Skysails, which is now chugging across the Atlantic Ocean with the help of a 160-square-meter (1,722-square-foot) computer-controlled kite.

The contraption’s inventor, 35-year-old Stephen Wrage, said supplementing the ship’s diesel engine with wind power should cut its daily fuel bill by 20 percent — at a time when oil has exceeded $90 (62 euros) a barrel.

Turning to alternative energy sources like wind power, an ancient tool in ocean travel, also reduces the ship’s CO2 output.

“During the next few months, we will finally be able to prove that our technology works in practice and significantly reduces fuel consumption and emissions,” said Wrage, founder and president of the Hamburg-based company SkySails.

The kite, shaped like a paraglider, flies up to 300 meters (980 feet) high to be able to pull the 10,000-ton vessel. It cost about 500,000 euros to make, not counting the five years of research Wrage and his colleagues put into it.

(…) Though freight ships are the world’s most important commercial transport method, carrying 90 percent of all traded goods, they were excluded from the UN’s climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol.

Experts have advocated that the industry — which produced 5 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions — be included in the successor treaty, to take effect after Kyoto expires in 2012.

But as long as oil prices remain high, ship companies already have a hefty incentive to reduce their fuel consumption. Many have already made effective efforts to save fuel by mandating slower speeds in their fleets.

Hamburg-based logistics company Hapag-Lloyd, for example, reduced the standard speed of its ships from 23.5 to 20 knots in the second half of last year and reported “significant savings.”

(…) Larger kites could cut fuel usage by 30 to 50 percent, Wrage said. The company hopes to double the size of the kites to 320 square meters and then expand them again to 600 square meters by 2009. They intend to fit 1,500 ships with the sails by 2015.

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