This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

January 09, 2008

New Cargo Ship Cuts its Fuel Use using a Kite-Like Sail

Photo of an oval parachute-like kite flying about a ship's length ahead of a large cargo ship, with a tow line running from the kite to the ship's bow.

The SkySails concept was tested on another Beluga ship before the launch of the "Beluga SkySails." Enlarge this image.

Back in the 19th century, the steam engine replaced the sail as the preferred mode of propulsion for cargo ships. Now a cargo ship has gone full circle, drawing on wind energy to help reduce its fuel use. The MV "Beluga SkySails," christened in mid-December, employs a kite-like sail similar to a paraglider to help tow it across the ocean. Mounted on the bow of the ship, the towing kite system is fully automated to deploy the kite in favorable winds and to recover the kite when the winds die down. The SkySails system includes a routing system that combines weather forecasting into a decision-making model to determine the optimal route for the ship to follow. According to Beluga Shipping GmbH, the SkySails system is the only convenient way to employ wind power in a modern cargo ship, because it doesn't restrict the stowage space or hinder the loading and unloading of the cargo.

The Beluga SkySails is currently using a 191-square-yard kite, and Beluga expects it to cut the ship's fuel consumption by 10%-15%. Beluga plans to eventually upgrade to a 383-square-yard kite, which is expected to cut fuel consumption by 20%-30%. The company also plans to outfit two new larger cargo vessels with kites more than 700 square yards in area. The system was developed by SkySails and tested by Beluga under a European Union co-funded project called WINTECC. See the Beluga press release, the SkySails Web site, and the technology description and photos on the WINTECC Web site.