If you’ve found yourself on the ocean anywhere between Germany and Venezuela recently, you might have spotted something out of the ordinary on the horizon–a giant cargo ship towing a 1,700-square-foot kite propulsion system. It was the maiden voyage of the Beluga SkySails, a multi-purpose cargo ship outfitted with new technology by Hamburg, Germany-based SkySails. After 2 months and 11,952 nautical miles, the Beluga SkySails has now completed the first phase of a 12-month testing voyage.
As we’ve reported, SkySails has developed enormous kite-like sails that can cut fuel usage and reduce the carbon emissions of cargo ships up to 30 percent by switching to wind power when conditions are right. According to the company’s managing director, Stephan Wrange, the Beluga ship used 20 percent less energy over the course of the journey than it would have without the sails. The technology has also caught the attention of the European Union, which kicked in 1.2 million euros to outfit the ship as part of its LIFE program to combat climate change.
So far, the auxiliary power system appears to be a win-win. Bremen-based Beluga Shipping CEO Niels Stolberg praised SkySails’ ability to save both carbon emissions and fuel costs–up to $1,000 per day if the wind conditions are just right! The man who captained the ship on its nearly 12,000-nautical-mile journey declared that the voyage signified the opening of “a new chapter in the history of commercial shipping.” Looks like all those sailors of old really were on to something.