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Home > Feature Articles > Logistics and Vehicle Fleet Management > Goods Movement

Giant Sails for Wind-Powered Ships

Renewable energy for ships comes from football field-sized kites

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windpower for ships and transportation Companies are manufacturing kites the size of football fields that can be deployed with a flexible cable from the bows of huge vessels. Rising nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, they catch winds that are up to 50 per cent stronger than at the surface and help pull the behemoths along.

Proponents say kites, which let captains throttle back their ship's diesel engines, will help slash fuel consumption by as much as 50 per cent under optimal conditions.

One major player in the kite business, SkySails in Hamburg, Germany, initially developed kite-propulsion systems for luxury yachts in 2001. Today the systems are being installed on cargo ships as well.

The first such ship to be outfitted with SkySails will be the 460-foot Beluga SkySails belonging to the Bremen, Germany-based shipping company, the Beluga Group. It was to make its maiden voyage on Dec. 15, hauling windmills from Esbjerg, Denmark to Houston, Texas.

In a written statement, Beluga said, "a decrease of fuel consumption as well as a cutback of the emission of harmful greenhouse gases on sea by 10 per cent to 20 per cent is the expected outcome of the pioneering application of SkySails."

Schreiner said that tougher restrictions on emissions leave the shipping industry no choice but to consider wind power.

KiteShip Corp. in Martinez, Calif., has been manufacturing ultra-large traction kites mostly for the private yachting sector, with plans to expand into cargo and cruise vessels. KiteShip develops and markets Very Large Free Flying Sails (VLFFS) and control systems, technology and techniques for launching, controlling and recovering same aboard boats, ships, industrial and aerospace applications.

KiteShip currently sells the Outleader, which helps increase yacht speeds. And it is working to improve the range and the speed of fast ferries and oceangoing research vessels without burning more fuel. Dave Culp, the engineer who helped found KiteShip, calls the three-person operation a “micromultinational."

Culp's big plans helped KiteShip win the Lexus Transportation Prize at the first California Clean Tech Open this year. Culp would like to build kites of up to 50,000 square feet — roughly the size of a football field and big enough to help move cargo ships and oil tankers. Working in tandem with an engine, the kites could allow fuel savings of 15 percent to possibly 30 percent.

One hurdle to powering ships with these wind-powered kites is the cost associated with hiring crews to tend the kites. From one point of view...a cost. From another -- green jobs! The results help clean up some of the dirtiest transportation offenders on a giant scale.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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