Marine

Airseas installs its first fuel-saving auto-kite on a cargo ship

Airseas installs its first fue...
Airseas has fitted its first automated sail to an Airbus-chartered cargo ship, promising impressive efficiency and emissions gains
Airseas has fitted its first automated sail to an Airbus-chartered cargo ship, promising impressive efficiency and emissions gains
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Airseas has fitted its first automated sail to an Airbus-chartered cargo ship, promising impressive efficiency and emissions gains
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Airseas has fitted its first automated sail to an Airbus-chartered cargo ship, promising impressive efficiency and emissions gains
An automatic system unpacks, unfurls and launches the kite on a mast on deck, before it's released to rise and run figure eights a couple of hundred meters above sea level
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An automatic system unpacks, unfurls and launches the kite on a mast on deck, before it's released to rise and run figure eights a couple of hundred meters above sea level
The system can be installed to nearly any large ship within a couple of days, without impacting cargo operations or storage space
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The system can be installed to nearly any large ship within a couple of days, without impacting cargo operations or storage space
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French company Airseas has installed its first half-size automated Seawing kite to a cargo ship chartered by Airbus, and will commence six months of trials in January. The full-size kite is estimated to save up to 20 percent of fuel burn and emissions.

The US$30-million, 154-meter (505-ft) Ville de Bordeaux, owned and operated by Louis Dreyfus, is currently on a long-term lease to Airbus, which uses it to move large aircraft structures between its distributed manufacturing plants around Europe and its final assembly plant in Toulouse.

Now, it's been fitted with a 500-square-meter (5,400-sq-ft) parafoil kite, plus all the deck and bridge equipment required to run the Seawing system. The Seawing deploys automatically, first emerging from storage on a trolley, then raising up from the deck on a mast to catch the wind, and finally being released on a long cable to grab the steady, strong winds over about 200 m (656 ft) above sea level.

At this point, it begins a figure-eight trajectory at a speed over 100 km/h (62 mph), monitored and controlled by an automated system running on the ship that's programmed to place the kite for maximum traction power. The Seawing computers also interface with the ship's navigation systems, monitoring forward wind conditions and re-routing the ship to take the most efficient path possible without affecting its arrival time.

The system can be installed to nearly any large ship within a couple of days, without impacting cargo operations or storage space
The system can be installed to nearly any large ship within a couple of days, without impacting cargo operations or storage space

The kite about to undergo testing is half the size of the full 1,000-sq-m (10,800-sq-ft) kite that'll eventually be deployed for commercial operation. Airseas estimates the full-size system will cut both diesel consumption and shipping emissions by a remarkable 20 percent. Germany's Skysails Group has tested similar devices up to 400 sq m (4,300 sq ft) in size, finding they replace up to 2 MW of power from the main engines under favorable wind conditions.

Airseas says the Seawing system can be retro-fitted to virtually all ship types, requiring only about two days for the conversion and not getting in the way of cargo operations in port. We'd certainly be interested to learn more about the economics of this kind of system; fuel costs for large freighters are enormous, and a 20 percent saving would add up to a significant figure very quickly.

Interestingly, it seems you can get an even more significant drop in fuel consumption simply by slowing down a few knots; a 2009 study found that an 8,000-TEU container ship burns around 225 tons of fuel a day at 24 knots (27.6 mph, 44.4 km/h), but can drop that by 33 percent if it travels a smidge slower at 21 knots (24.2 mph, 38.9 km/h).

An automatic system unpacks, unfurls and launches the kite on a mast on deck, before it's released to rise and run figure eights a couple of hundred meters above sea level
An automatic system unpacks, unfurls and launches the kite on a mast on deck, before it's released to rise and run figure eights a couple of hundred meters above sea level

Still, with range and energy storage proving a significant challenge for the decarbonization of long-haul shipping, an emissions-free system like this could give a clean 20 percent range boost to hydrogen or ammonia-powered ships that could really use it. Using wind to power ships ... Who would've thought, eh?

“A decade ago, we embarked on the ambitious project of channelling our unique aviation expertise towards creating a cleaner and more sustainable shipping industry," says Vincent Bernatets, CEO and Co-Founder of Airseas and a former engineer at Airbus. "Today, I am beyond proud to see that vision becoming reality, with our first Seawing ready to make a tangible difference for our planet. This first installation marks a significant milestone not only for Airseas, but also for wind and other renewable propulsion technologies in general. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, the world needs to see a drastic reduction in carbon emissions now. In shipping, we can achieve this by using the full set of tools we have available to us today. Wind propulsion is one of these and will play an essential role in helping shipping achieve its much-needed decarbonization transition.”

Source: Airseas

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18 comments
18 comments
Bob Stuart
There's another 20% efficiency gain to be had just by deploying much larger, slower-turning propellers once out of the shallows. The harbour-sized props churn their way across oceans pushing on water that is running away. Marine architects are still referring to the Betz limit, which is appropriate for pulling contests and harbour tugs which must generate such currents. Once under weigh, they need to use the Froude equations, like all the aircraft engineers do.
-dphiBbydt
Re - Bob Stuart's comment. Once these big ships are near port they invariably need a local pilot and often tugs so why not also have a fleet of battery-electric tugs on hand so the captain can completely cut the bunker-fuel engines (and lift said large slow-turning props out of the shallows) and be guided to the dock pollution free.
vince
It's deployed. Then the winds die down suddenly and it plummets into the sea--becoming a fish net and slowing the container ship to a crawl. Even worse, it gets tangled up in the propellers and strands the ship at sea--unable to sail or propel itself.
vince
Better are vertical sails such as these: theguardianDOTcom/environment/2017/mar/14/spinning-sail-reboot-cut-fuel-make-ocean-tankers-greener
Trylon
@vince, At sea and at altitude, winds are more constant and powerful than at sea level on land. Also, this is no static sail. Read the description again. The lines are manipulated to dynamically fly the parafoil through the air, multiplying lift and therefore propulsive power for the ship. Ask any kite flyer or kiteboarder how much more force that creates. If the winds do begin to die down, they can land the kite even if there's just the barest breeze.
Trylon
Also @vince, again, winds are stronger the higher you go. Flettner rotors operate near sea level. The very article you cite claims only 10% fuel savings. How is that better than the 20% the Seawing system claims?
Pupp1
This concept has been around since, I think , the 70's. Those old enough to remember, will know that it was predicted that by the year 2,000 all fossil fuels would have been used up. And, worse yet, we would be experiencing global cooling with no way to heat our homes. And these boat kites were billed as a way to help conserve the little fossil fuels that remained.
The more recent advance is in the improved ability to have a computer control the kite. But, at the 20% fuel savings, even in the 70's, you would think the cost of hiring a man to control the kite would have been much more than covered by the savings in fuel.

So I strongly suspect the idea is just not viable. Otherwise, it would have become an industry standard decades ago.
Michael Storer
All avenues of improvement are becoming valid and all have their problems that need to be debugged.

It is certainly heartening to see actual projects rather than photoshop efforts.

The advantages of kites is that there is very little deck gear involved and when retreived they take up very little space and don't interfere with either deck gear or dockside gear required when loading or unloading.

The problem with loading and unloading cargoes is the big problem when the vessel has permanent masts or sails. They are relatively delicate and won't survive impact from a swinging container or the loading/unloading structures themselves.

Good to mention reducing speed. A lot of that has already happened with many companies reducing speed by 5 or 7 knots. This has reduces fuel burns by around 25 to 35 percent. The improvement in dockside logistics (loading and unloading tech) means that while the trip travels more slowly, the loading and unloading happens much faster - the result is that round trip times have not changed much.
Nelson Hyde Chick
If on account of population gain and bringing the poor out of poverty causes shipping to increase by 50% overt the twenty years this technology is installed what has been gained? Nothing, it is a loss, and just another example of how we can not prevent environmetal disaster as long as humanity is allowed to swell by billions more.
joe46
LOL, just stick sails on masts, like they did in the old days, no need for gimmicks like this LOL.
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