The 12,000-ton hybrid

Meet the hybrid of the seas: A wind-powered containership

By Jeffrey Davis, Business 2.0 Magazine assistant managing editor

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- It's not just planes, trains, and automobiles switching to alternative energy sources. The world's 50,000 diesel-powered containerships -- which haul 90 percent of all goods -- are looking for ways to go green too.

This fall Germany's top shipping firm, Beluga, will launch its latest containership with a clean-tech twist: a giant kite that flies 1,000 feet above the bow, connected to an automated telescoping mast. Wind power won't displace the ship's giant diesel engines, but it will take a load off, slashing fuel consumption by as much as 30 percent.

The SkySails kite, named for the Hamburg-based startup that created it, is the first modern commercial application of an old concept. Japanese shippers experimented with wind-assisted vessels in the 1980s after a spike in oil prices.

But with today's fuel costs already sky-high and likely to keep rising, and carbon emissions from the shipping industry set to jump 75 percent by 2027, hybrid freighters may soon become a permanent fixture.

Stephan Wrage, SkySails's 33-year-old founder, says he's targeting cargo vessels, oil tankers, fish trawlers, and big yachts. Wrage hopes to add more commercial clients -- including the biggest yachts of all, passenger cruise ships -- if Beluga sails through its sea trials this summer without mishap.

SKYSAILS BY THE NUMBERS

SAIL AREA

1,100 SQ. FT.

ELEVATION

UP TO 1,000 FT.

MAXIMUM OUTPUT

4,000 HORSEPOWER

COST

$400,000-$800,000 PER VESSEL

FUEL SAVINGS

$1,200 PER DAY Top of page

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