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Cargill Looks to Wind to Ship Cargo

Ocean transport vessels are making a return to sails, The Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports.

What’s going on: “Major players in maritime shipping, looking for ways to cut carbon emissions and save on fuel, are trying out new ways to use old-fashioned wind power. But the devices being tested on some bulk freighters are far from old-fashioned—more like high-tech airplane wings than the canvas sails that once powered schooners and sloops.”

  • One iteration, automated sails made by agricultural company Cargill and U.K. naval engineering services firm BAR Technologies, is “designed to be used with existing [ship] engines.” The sails were recently retrofitted onto Mitsubishi Corp.’s bulk carrier vessel Pyxis Ocean, now on its second route.

Why wind? The “beauty of wind … [is] it doesn’t only save carbon, but it also saves fuel,” Cargill Ocean Transportation President Jan Dieleman told the Journal.

Overcoming challenges: The companies’ logistical hurdles in the project included operating a vessel with a 123-foot sail (they used cameras) and coming in and out of port with the sails (they made them foldable).    

Powerful partnership: Cargill has a long-term relationship with Mitsubishi, and the Pyxis Ocean was already in its fleet.

  • “[W]e’re putting a very new technology on a ship that’s not really built for it,” Dieleman said, of the automated sails put onto the Pyxis Ocean. “And that’s why, if you look at the future, we think that if you have a ship that is from the start actually designed for wind, you probably are going to get even better results.”
  • He estimates that with two of the new sails in place, a ship “should save around 20%” of the fuel it would otherwise use. With three sails, that figure could rise to 30%.

The NAM’s take: “Innovation is essential to decarbonizing hard-to-abate industries,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Brandon Farris. “Manufacturers will continue to lead the way in developing alternative sources of energy and transportation and new, creative uses of current sources that can serve our needs now and for the next generation.”

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