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Energy Efficiency

Published on July 25th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz

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Wind-Powered Tall Ships Are Once Again Important As Oil Prices Hurt Trade

July 25th, 2008 by  


Tall Ships

Sometimes it takes an energy crisis to make us realize the value of old technology. As oil prices soar, tall wind-powered ships are looking like an increasingly viable alternative.

The first commercial cargo of French wine to be transported by sailboat in the modern era is due to arrive in Dublin this week after a six-day trip. The 108 year-old British boat, chartered by French shipping company Compagnie de Transport Maritime a la Voile (CMTV), is carrying 30,000 bottles of wine.

Though the ship travels at a top speed of eight knots— half the speed of a modern cargo vessel—it is completely pollution-free. The 50,000 other merchant ships traveling the world emit 800 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

The Kathleen & May spent most of its life transporting coal and clay. It was taken out of commercial service in 1960. Now it’s once again hard at work, as CMTV has contracted for 80 vineyard owners from southern France to carry their wine bottles to Ireland on the ship. The company is also working on another deal to bring Irish whiskey and scotch to France using the boat, and it eventually plans on building its own tall ships for transport.

CMTV may be on to something; according to the French Association of Shipowners, wind-powered boats could capture .5% of the commercial shipping market. This may not sound like much—until you consider that 90% of the world’s traded goods are transported via boat.

Tall ships may move a bit slower than fossil-fuel powered ships, but their minimal environmental impact could make them sea trade’s best hope for the future.


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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



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