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 costs.
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.