Home Green Consumer The Age Of Sail Is Back

The Age Of Sail Is Back


Commercial Ocean shipping carries 98.2% of the world’s goods, and 98% of it is driven by diesel engines.  Ocean bound freighters are contributing 3% of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. If all commercial ships were a country, they would rank number seven in carbon emissions, equaling Germany’s output.  There may be help on the way to cut down these emissions by 50%.  A German based company in Hamburg has developed a 21st century solution to an ancient technology – sail power.  Harvesting the wind to cut down on carbon emissions from ships is not such a novel idea, but the latest solution is using another age old entertainment concept to achieve it, is.  SkySails, the Hamburg based company’s concept is to use a large towing kite to help propel the ship and cut down on diesel fuel usage.  The age of sail may again be upon us. The company claims almost every merchant and passenger vessel can be equipped or retrofitted with the SkySails system.  The towing kite is filled with compressed air to obtain optimally-shaped aerofoil profiles and can deliver up to 5,000 square meters of sail, all operated by an autopilot and wind-optimized route management for the best possible energy utilization. The operating altitude of the scales can be up to 500 meters and as the speed of the wind increases considerably with height, even at heights of assumed wind calmness the company believes sufficient wind energy is available to enable ship owners to stay on schedule and halve their fuel costs.  The German based company received government sponsored funding for the project.  The real question is whether the shipping industry is willing to spend the money to retrofit their ships.  Shipping has taken a hit during this last recession, and has cut back on the number of ships they are deploying.  It is taking longer for merchandise to cross the oceans because of this.  Someone has to hurry up and do the cost benefit analysis on this one, in order to convince ship owners to make the change.  It would be pretty cool to see large sailing ships traversing across the oceans again.

Photo: SkySail      Photo courtesy: GigMag


  1. John, I have also come across this idea. I am a bit surprised that it does not seem to have caught on yet. I think that importers would be queueing up to get their merchandise on a ship using sails as it would clearly help with their carbon footprint. I would be first in the queue.
    Best Regards


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