- Airbus will use a massive sail to help power one of its three roll-on, roll-off vessels that carries components for single-aisle aircraft from Europe to the assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- During the 13-day journey, the 5,382-square-foot SeaWing sail from AirSeas, an Airbus startup, is expected to reduce both fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 20% when the upgraded "Ville de Bordeaux" begins operations in 2021.
- The kite design is only the latest effort to reduce fuel consumption and emissions for cargo and passenger vessels that crisscross the oceans.
Shipping industry efforts to reduce fuel consumption and emissions reflect the International Maritime Organization's stated goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 30% by 2030 and 70% by 2050.
The SeaWing kite, deployed from a special deck fitting pulling the ship downwind, could save $1.2 million in fuel costs each year and pay for itself in five years, according to a press release. Airbus tested a smaller kite last year before proceeding with the vessel upgrade.
The SeaWing will operate autonomously at the flip of a switch. Meteorological and ocean sensors will help guide the vessel to the most favorable heading. When the sail is no longer needed, it will automatically refold itself, ready for the next opportunity to ride the wind.
Other vessel operators and builders are exploring sail options to supplement or replace conventional power. A.P. Moeller - Maersk plans to cut fuel consumption on some of its tankers by installing vertical cylinders nearly 100 feet tall that function as rotating sails to harness the wind. The vertical rotors spun by electric motors generate forward thrust. Cruise operator Viking Line is planning to use similar technology on its ships, according to Science Magazine.
The vertical sail technology was first tested in the 1920s, but at the time there weren't economic or environmental incentives to move away from steam power. The technology is coming back into vogue, boosted by modern materials like carbon fiber.
Vessel builders are also researching full electric and electric-engine hybrid propulsion systems to replace hydrocarbon-based fuels, as well as alternative fuels such as LNG.