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Fuel-Free Oceanic Shipping

by Open-Publishing - Wednesday 20 February 2008

Energy Environment Transports

"DHL Completes More Eco-Friendly Ship Voyage as Industry Comes Under Fire

A cargo vessel that uses a towing kite system to achieve better shipping fuel economy completed its first shipment this week as the industry found itself under fire from U.S. and international regulators."

This story is out of today’s "Green Buzz," the newsletter post from Green Biz today. While it’s an amazing achievement to use a kite to cut fuel use by 20% on a cargo ship, the sad part is that most cargo shipping up until the early 1900’s used U.S. - designed "clipper ships" or "Yankee Clippers" that got 100% of their power from wind, averaged nearly 20 knots on wind power alone, and routinely made the New York to Hong Kong run in a month or just over, BEFORE THE PANAMA CANAL EXISTED. ALL shipping in this era was completely wind-powered.

This means that all clipper ships had to round the Cape of Good Hope at the Southern tip of South America, where violent seas were extremely cold and treacherous. If those ships had been able to use the Panama Canal, they likely would have made the trip in a couple of weeks, using not a speck of fossil fuel and spewing ZERO carbon emissions into the atmosphere. (Modern oceanic shipping is one of the most carbon-emission-intense activities we do.)

The reason clipper ships were abandoned was because they could be stuck sitting out to sea if they lost the wind. Being "becalmed" left highly valuable cargo sitting out on the open sea, wasting money, time, and increasing vulnerability to pirate attacks.

This is a different era, however. There are now companies making flexible solar cells that could be incorporated in SAILCLOTH. The technology exists to either use batteries or hydrogen storage and "solar sails" to give a cargo ship auxiliary power for when the wind dies down.

I would even consider combining hydrogen storage with the tow-kite technology. Let the kite double as hydrogen storage, giving it buoyancy, and also bear additional solar cells to help increase power for electrolysis plants onboard the ships.

"Solar Sailing" could revolutionize the cargo industry, making it extremely green and sustainable, using a marriage of the ultra-developed sailing technologies of the late 1800’s and the modern technologies of solar power and electric propulsion.

This could also give a boost to solar cell manufacturing, and in the long term, drive down the costs for flexible solar cells, sailcloth, etc. Not to mention, save millions of barrels of oil and tons of coal every year.

The shipyard and shipping company that picks this up and runs with it could lead the world in ultra-low cost shipping, because they would eliminate the cost of shipping fuel.

I am amazed I haven’t heard of anyone putting these technologies together - so I am proposing it here, in this space. A little shout out for wind and sunshine from the Zephyr - poetic, isn’t it?

Regards, and thanks for reading and feedback in advance,



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