Agribiz giant Cargill is planning to test a giant kite on a “handysize” shipping vessel later this year, making it the largest kite-powered ship in the world. The use of wind power is expected to cut the ship’s use of low grade bunker fuel by up to 35%, depending on wind and weather conditions. If the demonstration project proves successful, it could lead to a radical improvement in the shipping industry’s ability to rein in its greenhouse gas emissions.
Global Shipping and Greenhouse Gases
It’s a bad news/good news thing. Global shipping churns out a significant amount of air pollution, mainly due to its use of low grade “bunker” fuel. Apparently, if shipping was its own country, it would be the sixth-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, it may be relatively easy (relatively, mind you) to get those emissions under control, because a relatively small number of vessels – 90,000 – transports about 90 percent of world trade.
Unlike sails, which are anchored to a ship by masts, Cargill will be testing a true kite tethered by long ropes, resembling a giant parasail. The company is working with sailpower expert SkySails. Kite powered ships are not entirely new – the world’s first commercial kite-powered ship was launched in 2008 – but SkySail has stepped up the technology with an automated system designed to manipulate the kite for maximum efficiency. The next step is to find a ship owner (Cargill does not own ships, it charters them) willing to host a test of the latest sustainable technology. That shouldn’t be too hard; the shipping industry is beginning to transition into full on green mode and Maersk, for example, has just rolled out a new line of energy-saving ships.
A Comeback for Sailing Ships
High tech kites are just one way in which the shipping industry is rediscovering the benefits of clean, renewable energy. In a twist on convention, one company is testing a system based on rigid sail-like panels, which can double as wind power and solar power collectors. Shipping industry leaders see the writing on the wall both in terms of oil prices and in tighter environmental regulations at seaports, so the prospect looks good for more sustainable energy innovations in the future.
Image: Kite by yerffej9 on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.