Kite Powers Largest Vessel to Date

As shipping lines explore ways of operating more sustainably and more efficiently, harnessing the power of the wind out at sea is attracting renewed interest.

Switzerland-based global shipping group Cargill has announced plans with SkySails to install a 320m2 kite on a 25,000 to 30,000 deadweight tonne-vessel, making it the largest vessel propelled by a kite to date. The system is scheduled to be fully operational in the first quarter of 2012. You can find full details of the project at Cargill’s news centre.

The patented system uses kites to assist ship propulsion that, depending on prevailing wind conditions, can reduce bunker fuel consumption by up to 35 per cent, according to SkySails. The company claims that in optimal conditions, fuel use can temporarily be cut by up to 50 per cent.

The 474-TEU Beluga SkySails

The technology was first used on an industrial scale in January 2008 on the 474-TEU Beluga SkySails container ship (pictured).

Computers control the position of the kites to ensure the maximum amount of wind is captured at all times, thereby reducing conventional engine use as much as possible. The kites fly at between 100 to 420 metres and because the system is automated, ships’ crews involvement is also limited.

As regulations on vessel emissions are tightened, wind power could by one of many ways for the shipping industry to reduce emissions and fuel costs, even by modest amounts.