Cargill ship will be largest ever to utilize kite power


February 28, 2011

Cargill Ocean Transportation has announced that it will be installing a SkySails wind propulsion system on one of its cargo ships, the largest ever to receive such technology (Image: Cargill)

Cargill Ocean Transportation has announced that it will be installing a SkySails wind propulsion system on one of its cargo ships, the largest ever to receive such technology (Image: Cargill)

For the past ten years, Hamburg-based SkySails has been engineering and producing what are essentially giant kites, designed to help ships reduce their fuel use by catching the wind and pulling them across the surface of the ocean. The system was put into regular shipping use for the first time in 2008, when one of the kites was attached to the 132-meter (433-foot) multi purpose heavy lift carrier MS Beluga SkySails. Now, Cargill Ocean Transportation has announced that it plans to use the technology on one of its long-term charter ships, a vessel of between 25,000 and 30,000 deadweight tonnes (27,558 to 33,069 US tons). It will be the largest kite-assisted ship in the world.

The kite will measure 320 square meters (382.7 square yards), and will fly ahead of the ship in a figure-8 pattern at a height of 100 to 420 meters (328 to 1,378 feet). Its flight path will be controlled by an automated system, and the kite itself will be launched and retrieved via a winch-equipped telescoping tower on the bow – definitely a better approach than having someone desperately bracing themselves against the deck of the ship, while clutching a couple of control lines! Information regarding the system's operation will be displayed on a monitor on the ship's bridge, although it is said to require a minimum of input from the crew.

Use of a SkySails sysytem is claimed to reduce a cargo vessel's fuel consumption by an average of 10 to 35 percent annually, and by up to 50 percent temporarily. Due to its "dynamic flight maneuvers," the kite reportedly generates 5 to 25 times more power per square meter sail area than a conventional sail. A study by the United Nations' International Maritime Organization suggested that up to 100 million tonnes (110.2 million US tons) of carbon dioxide could be saved each year, if the technology was broadly applied to the world's merchant fleet.

Cargill plans to install the SkySails system this December, and hopes to have it fully operational within the first quarter of 2012.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

...and attach a HD camera to the rig, so they can spot pirate ships from further away, and give them time to maneuver away sooner....

Matt Rings

About time this was adopted by the entire shiping industry!

David Anderton

Good news, about time. Solar power next?

Vladimir Popov

Imagine that, using wind to power a ship.


the HD cam idea is great..and so is the idea of fabric incorporated PV cells on dat canopy !

Atul Malhotra

A book by Ray Stannard Baker published as early as 1899, over 110 years ago titled; \"Boys Book Of Inventions\" dedicated a chapter to kites, and ended with predictions of being able to use kites in nearly the same manner as this.

F Ed Knutson

I just watched Water World (Kevin Costner) for the first time last night. (I know, where was I the last 15 years?!) I thought the movie was a bomb, however the ship he sailed, a tri-haul, had some real slick gadgets. One of which was a cannon deployed Kite engine to use in a get-away. When I saw this the very next day, it gave me chills and thrills. :)

Paul Anthony

I remember saying to my brother (a shipwright) about fifteen years ago \"I have seen the future, and it is kite powered!\". I had been reading in an obscure little publication called \"Catalyst\" (newsletter of The Amateur Yacht Research Society, about the theory of a wind-powered water-borne speed record craft, combining a kite with a \'chien-de-mer\' (see \'Zeppy 3\' Gizmag article) which is a streamlined,curved fin keel, shaped to oppose the lateral force of the kite and translate it into forward thrust. This is essentially what a sailboat does anyway, but this device is extremely efficient, having very low-drag and displacement. So the combined pair forms a craft which is the absolute bare bones of the dynamics of sail power. There was also much discussion of the practical possibilities and benefits of sail and kite power for cargo vessels, so it\'s nice to see that it\'s actually coming to life now. Presumably, it can be quite tricky to \'reef\' or otherwise \'reduce\' a kite of this scale in a strengthening wind, but hat\'s off to the companies giving this a go. Good Luck to them.

Facebook User

We need this type of vessel for Pacific Ocean transport. The distances warrent great fuel savings.

Adrian Akau

Seriously?.. I\'m not going to be one one running with that thing to get it off the ground. What\'s wrong with just using plain ol\' sails?.. I gotta think of everything!!


dparks, I hope you\'re just trying (and failing) to be funny, because otherwise you\'re not \"thinking of anything.\" Read up on the differences between kitesurfing and windsurfing, between surface winds and high altitude winds.


Fabuluous stuff, gee whiz captain nemo, using the wind to propel ships, what will they think of next?

I wonder how far in the past wind has been used for ship propulsion? I think Thag used it in the cretacious period.

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