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Innovative new sail kite system could halve
maritime diesel usage
February 14, 2005 A Hamburg-based company has
developed a sailing propulsion system that can be
retrofitted to almost all large ships, enabling us to
reharness the enormous energy potential of the wind!
With minimal operating costs, the wind-power ed
system could make shipping more profitable, safer
and more independent of declining oil reserves. It's
ironic that the motive force that enabled the Spanish,
English, Dutch, Portugeuse and Chinese to explore
the world 500 years ago might have a second golden
age thanks to a German company but the technology
is sound and the prize for success will be immense.
World trade is conducted principally by ships. Ships
carry 98.2% of intercontinental goods, and 98% of all
cargo vessels are powered by diesel engines. In
2002, ships used 25 billion Euros worth of fuel. The
Skysails system is expected to more than halve fuel
SkySails GmbH was established as industrial
engineer Stephan Wrage and naval architect Thomas
Meyer at the end of 2001 in Hamburg and was the
first company to be funded by the German
Government's innovation acceleration scheme
IdeenFONDS. The criteria for IdeenFONDS
assistance were that the company should have a
proven management team and the technology should
be highly innovative with high market opportunities.
Since then, SkySails has also received financial
support from the Innovationsstiftung in Hamburg and
Wirtschaftsbehörde in Hamburg.
The Skysails Technology
The SkySails propulsion system consists of a fully
automatic towing kite system and routing software,
which allows for the use of the most favourable winds.
The company claims almost every merchant and
passenger vessel can be equipped or retrofitted with
the SkySails system.
The towing kite is filled with compressed air to obtain
optimally-shaped aerofoil profiles and can deliver up
to 5,000 square metres of sail, all operated by an
autopilot and wind-optimised route management for
the best possible energy utilisation.
The operating altitude of the scales can be up to 500
metres and as the speed of the wind increases
considerably with height, even at heights of assumed
wind calmness the company believes sufficient wind
energy is available to enable ship owners to stay on
schedule and halve their fuel costs.
One of the obvious potential drawbacks, that ships
fitted with the system would "heel" (tilt to the side with
the force of the wind), has been overcome. A ship
with a SkySails system does not heel, because it has
inbuilt aerodynamic autopilot force control.
As the sail is spatially separated from the body of the
ship the reduction of the ship's effective area by the
system is economically insignificant. In its packed
state the towing kite is easy to stow and takes up very
little space. The existing crew is sufficient for the
operation of the ship and the sail. Thus no additional
staffing expenses are necessary.