If you had visited Copenhagen recently you could have seen a 32-metre long twin-masted sailing ship, a brigantine, called the Tres Hombres arriving at the dock but this wasn’t some romantic recreation of a bygone age the ship carries up to 35 tonnes of cargo, and has been doing since 2009.
As reported by the BBC this week the business is one of many new projects underway to again use sail power to transport goods. Most freight carriers only travel at about 15 knots today, to save fuel and reduce emissions whereas ships such as the Tres Hombres travels at 10 knots which is not really much slower. Many companies who are concerned about their energy usage and the effects of their logistics on the environment welcome the low impact nature of sail – current cargo shipping equates to being the sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gasses on the planet.
The only problem however is the unpredictability of the wind but even this can be solved today by the use of engines when the wind isn’t cooperating. One company, B9, is designing a large cargo ship which combines carbon-fibre high-efficiency sails with an engine that runs on bio-gas from food waste. Modern technology even allows for the weather to be predicted so as to make the best use of the wind and engine throughout a voyage. Models have already been tested at Southampton University and the results used to optimise routes.
Lastly Skysails, a German company, is looking at marketing systems of giant kites to provide assistance to large conventional cargo ships and in Japan the University of Tokyo is also looking at sails on cargo ships.
It is still a niche idea at the moment but as the BBCs report shows as fuel costs increase and world trade continues to increase the modernised technology may once more have its day.