The 12,000 Ton Hybrid

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 good- 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, names for the Hamburg-bases startup that created it, is the first modern commercial application of an old concept. Japanese shipper 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 raising, 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 trails this summer without mishap.

From Business 2.0 May 2007 by Jeffrey Davis