Marine

Michelin's inflatable sails hybridize freight ships to cut emissions

Michelin's inflatable sails hy...
The sails won't replace the engines, but they should help to cut down on fuel usage and emissions
The sails won't replace the engines, but they should help to cut down on fuel usage and emissions
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The sails won't replace the engines, but they should help to cut down on fuel usage and emissions
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The sails won't replace the engines, but they should help to cut down on fuel usage and emissions
Michelin tests the system atop a smaller sailboat ahead of trials on a commercial ship
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Michelin tests the system atop a smaller sailboat ahead of trials on a commercial ship
Michelin says its two-faced inflated design is better at catching wind and converting it into momentum than traditional sails
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Michelin says its two-faced inflated design is better at catching wind and converting it into momentum than traditional sails
The wing sail collapses atop the ship whenever it's not needed or presents an impediment
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The wing sail collapses atop the ship whenever it's not needed or presents an impediment
At the push of a button, the wing sails lower to navigate bridge or raise to take advantage of wind on the open water
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At the push of a button, the wing sails lower to navigate bridge or raise to take advantage of wind on the open water
Michelin wing sails mid retraction
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Michelin wing sails mid retraction
The mast within the wing sail design telescopes closed during retraction and extends during deployment
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The mast within the wing sail design telescopes closed during retraction and extends during deployment
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Beyond putting rubber on the world's least-efficient hypercars, the Michelin Group also has its hand in more sustainable inflatable endeavors. Its Wing Sail Mobility (WISAMO) project aims to increase efficiency among cargo ships using an inflatable sail that deploys to take advantage of available wind, quickly retracting on demand.

Developed as a joint project between Michelin R&D and two Swiss inventors, the wing sail system isn't meant to replace ship engines but augment them with a clean, free, readily available power source. The automated sail collapses like an accordion over top of the deck when not in use. At the push of a button, the sail inflates into full, puffy airplane wing-like glory with help from an air compressor and a rising telescopic mast.

Used on its own or in groups, the wing sail transforms wind into forward momentum to decrease overall vessel fuel consumption by 10 to 20 percent, according to Michelin. The company claims that the dual-sided surface of the inflated sail improves performance over traditional flat sails, particularly when it comes to sailing upwind. And we're sure it doesn't hurt that the big, baffled sail ties in nicely with the rubbery folds of the pudgy Michelin Man, serving as something of a highly visible Michelin billboard.

The wing sail collapses atop the ship whenever it's not needed or presents an impediment
The wing sail collapses atop the ship whenever it's not needed or presents an impediment

The WISAMO system is automated, an important point since merchant ships likely won't have the manpower or expertise necessary to work a traditional sail. The system also works in repositioning the wing sail(s) to the optimum position for wind conditions.

Michelin says the wing sail is able to hold up to stormy conditions, absorbing energy with its inflated body. Should the conditions prove too rough, it can retract quickly until the skies clear, something that's also necessary when cruising under bridges and into harbors.

The WISAMO wing sail is a plug-and-play design that can be retrofitted to existing vessels or integrated into new builds. Michelin says that it's particularly well-suited to commercial roll-on/roll-off ships, bulk carriers and tankers, but can also be used on pleasure craft.

At the push of a button, the wing sails lower to navigate bridge or raise to take advantage of wind on the open water
At the push of a button, the wing sails lower to navigate bridge or raise to take advantage of wind on the open water

Michelin highlighted the WISAMO project at this month's Movin' On global sustainability summit. It has built a 100-sq-m (1,076-sq-ft) sail, and plans to finish testing atop a sailboat with help from French sailor and racer Michel Desjoyeaux. From there, it will run a trial atop a merchant ship in 2022 ahead of planned production. The company intends for the wing sails to contribute to the much broader long-term goal of cutting 50+ percent of global maritime transport emissions by 2050.

The five-minute English-subtitled video below brings you behind the scenes of the WISAMO project.

WISAMO: Engineered by Michelin and powered by wind (Movin On) | Michelin

Source: Michelin

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5 comments
5 comments
Edward Vix
No mention is made of a keel for the tankers, normally such is needed for sailing into the wind as it forms a counterforce against blowing the boat sideways.
clay
BRILLIANT! And they actually built and tested them :-)

Now to make them for smudgebarges (err... power yachts).. an adaptation kit or an "use in case of emergency" kit would be pretty epic.
BlueOak
@Edward, these sails are not the primary moving force on a freighter. They simply supplement the existing engines, whose forward motivating force keeps the ship on track.
Kpar
I've been wondering for decades why ship operators have not looked seriously into adding sail power to their motorships.

I do not believe that CO2 is any sort of threat to the planet, but fuel is expensive, and I DO believe in getting the best mileage one can. Also, less pollution is always good.
Philip J. 7 Smith
I like it quite a bit as the system is a no brainer to sail and many people are either idiots or dangerously poorly skilled at sailing. The design also has durability and can likely be scaled up and down more than they have yet to explore with prototype installations so far.