Could Cargo Ships of the Future Rely on Wind Power?

Maritime history is rich with tales of ships that sailed the world’s oceans on voyages of discovery and international trade.

Today, the shipping industry contributes almost 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, because of the dirty bunker fuel that powers most of the world’s ocean-going fleets.

But new emissions regulations and rising bunker fuel costs are inspiring some ship designers to look to the wind as a future source of clean power, reports The New York Times.

Examples on the drawing board or in prototype include a 328-foot, 3,000-ton cargo carrier (pictured below) from B9 Energy in Ireland, which would be powered powered by a combination of wind turbines and a Rolls-Royce biogas engine.  Or the UT Wind Challenger designed by the University of Tokyo, designed with nine 164-foot masts holding five hollow sails made of aluminum and fiber-reinforced plastic.

B9 Shipping

The designs would supplement the engines and the prototypes are expensive. A prototype of the B9 Energy ship, for example, would cost $45 million and take three years to build, a spokeswoman for the company told the NYT.

But designers believe wind power can be a viable alternative for small, slow-moving ships that weigh between 3,000-10,000 tons – about 20% of the world’s cargo fleet.

Whether the conservative shipping industry has the motivation to invest in this new technology remains to be seen. One company that is taking a chance, is Cargill – which ranks as the world’s biggest charterer of dry bulk cargo ships. The beneficiary of its interest is SkySails, which sells a towing kit that helps pull a ship forward in the right wind conditions, reducing fuel consumption by 10%-35%.

It’s like the technologies that many trucking companies are using to reduce truck drag and improve the fuel efficiency of their fleets.

For the NYT article about the potential of wind technology to power ships:

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