The Oil Drum has a fascinating article on the new developments by the German company SkySails. Their system flies a kite the size of a football field above a normal cargo vessel or tanker. The kites fly around 1000 metres up, where winds are higher and can help pull the ship along, cutting fuel needs and increasing speed. A German cargo firm, Beluga, will be making the first voyage using a SkySail this month.
“It marks the beginning of a revolution in the way that ships are powered,” said Stephan Wrage, the inventor of the SkySails idea. “We calculate that the sails can reduce fuel consumption by between 30 and 50 per cent, depending on the wind conditions. “The system could be applied to about 60,000 vessels out of the 100,000 or so listed in the Lloyd’s register. Bulk carriers, tankers — they could all benefit from the flying sails.”
The kite is computer controlled to get the best of the wind available and is attached to a rail running around the edge of the ship’s hull. The first test will use a 160 square metre sail and aim to save around 15% of available fuel. In later products the company aims to scale up to sails as big as 5000 square metres able to boost the speed of the biggest cargo vessel. With the kite sail pulling, the ship is able to spend less on the increasingly costly bunker fuel needed for engines. A US company, KiteSail, also produces a similar technology aimed more at the leisure market.