Sea Transportation: Big Ships Back Under Sail



October 15, 2008: The rising price of petroleum products is making wind power practical again for merchant ships. A century ago, sail powered merchant vessels were fading fast, replaced by faster, more expensive, but more economical (because of cheap fuel), steam powered ships. But now that has changed, with advances in sail technology and rising oil prices making it cost effective to resume using wind power. For example, the U.S. Navy recently chartered a 400 foot, 20,000 deadweight ton merchant ship (the MV Beluga) to move some cargo. This ship was one of the first equipped with the SkySail. This device looks like a large (160 square meters) kite, flying 100 meters in the air in front of the ship. What this rig is doing is actually pulling the ship, reducing the use of the engines, and saving over a thousand dollars a day in fuel costs. At that rate, SkySail pays for itself in less than a year.

About 60 percent of the worlds 100,000 merchant and fishing ships can use SkySail efficiently. The equipment is computer controlled, and weighs only a few tons. Not much training is required to run the system, and smaller warships could use it as well. Depending on wind conditions (which vary greatly across the oceans), ships can save 10-50 percent of their fuel costs a day using SkySail.

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