SkySails GmbH & Co. KG is a Hamburg-based company that sells equipment to propel cargo ships, large yachts and fishing vessels by the use of wind energy. The company was founded in 2001 by engineers Stephan Wrage and Thomas Meyer. A test facility was set up in Wismar.
The SkySails propulsion system consists of a large foil kite, an electronic control system for the kite and an automatic system to retract the kite. The system bears similarities to kitesurfing. The system was first tested on the Baltic Sea, before commercial implementation. The kites, which have an area of around 320 square metres (3,400 sq ft), can be flown at altitudes of 100–300 metres (330–980 ft). Because of the stronger winds at these heights, they receive a substantially higher thrust per unit area than conventional mast-mounted sails. It is possible that a ship equipped with the current SkySails could consume from 10 to 35% less fuel. A conventional ship with a SkySail-system has two propulsion methods, making it a type of hybrid vehicle. SkySail kite propulsion from upper wind power is a traction use of high altitude wind power.
MS Beluga Skysails is the world's first commercial container cargo ship which is partially powered by a 160-square-metre (1,700 sq ft), computer-controlled kite. It was launched 17 December 2007 and departed the northern German port of Bremerhaven to Guanta, Venezuela in January 2008. Stephan Wrage, managing director of SkySails GmbH announced: "During the next few months we will finally be able to prove that our technology works in practice and significantly reduces fuel consumption and emissions."
The ship completed its journey on 13 March 2008 after sailing from Germany to Venezuela, then to the United States, and ultimately arriving in Norway. While the kite was in use, the ship saved an estimated 10-15% fuel, $1,000 to $1,500 per day.
In early 2010, the company announced that it had sold one of its 160m² systems to be installed on the Maartje Theadora, the first application of the SkySails system on a fishing trawler. The vessel is described as Germany's largest fishing ship, and the kite is expected to reduce fuel costs on the runs to fishing grounds along the African coasts or the South Pacific.
The SkySails company suffers from the current economic crisis, as amounts of cargo transported around the world remain lower than before 2008 and shipowners are currently unwilling to invest the necessary funds for alternative propulsion systems. In January 2012, SkySails had to lay off half of its 80 employees. As of 2012, SkySails has failed to fully recover the venture capital invested into it.
In the future scaling up to a 1,600-square-metre (17,000 sq ft) sail will eventually cut fuel costs by over 50% for cargo ships. Competitor KiteShip is planning a 4,650 metre (50,000 sq ft) sail for oil tankers.
- Steve Rosenberg (23 January 2008). Gone with the wind on 'kite ship'. BBC (retrieved January 4, 2011)
- "Kite to pull ship across Atlantic". BBC. 2008-01-22. Retrieved 2011-06-09.
- "Kite-Driven Beluga Skysail Completes 12,000 Mile Journey and Proves Concept". Triple Pundit. 2008-03-14. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
- Projekt WINTECC Layman's Report (3.1 SkySails-System) (PDF-file). Retrieved May 27, 2011[dead link]
- Skysails Performance Calculation (Operating days at sea). Retrieved May 27, 2011[dead link]
- Beluga Group, N-Series Main engine data - Speed & consumption HFO. Retrieved May 27, 2011[dead link]
- "Fishing trawler will be powered by a 160m2 kite propulsion system". SurferToday.com. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
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