This Car Carrier Will Voyage the Oceans Using “Sails”

Black Pearl it is not. It’s waaay better.

If you are not familiar with that Pirates of the Caribbean reference, then here’s a history of sea travel in a nutshell: ancient ships explored the oceans powered sometimes by elbow grease but mainly by wind caught in sails; it was only in the late 1880s that they were replaced by steam propulsion created by burning coal and today, by engines powered by fossil fuel, biogas or nuclear energy. But the problem with modern-day shipping is the massive environmental impact it has with the great amounts of air, water, and oil pollution it contributes.

And this is why Sweden is reverting back to using sails. Wind power is considered one of the cleanest renewable energy (besides solar) and where do we have plenty of winds (besides a roomful of people who had just had beans)? The oceans, of course. So why not use it to power those large cargo carriers that are traversing our oceans?

The initiative between Wallenius Marine, KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) and SSPA, backed by the Swedish Transport Administration, has created the Oceanbird concept, a car and truck carrier with a capacity of 7,000 vehicles.

At first glance, it looks like there are funnels, such as the ones you would find on a steamship, but they are actually four “sails” that are really more like airplane wings and function not that dissimilarly. The sails are made of steel and composite materials, and can rotate 360-degrees to catch the wind at the most optimal angle, or retract during rough weather or to clear bridges.

Of course, the Oceanbird also would have an auxiliary engine to get it out of harbours (and for emergencies), but once it hits open waters, it will rely mostly on wind to propel it at an estimated speed of 10 knots. That is much slower than current car carriers which travel at 17 knots, which means instead of the usual seven days it would take to cross the Atlantic, the Oceanbird will take 12. However, the Oceanbird will only create 3 to 12 tons of CO2 emissions a day compared to 120 tons a day that a standard carrier will emit.

Now, we imagine that this would result in longer delivery time for cars or any other ocean cargo, and consumers, who in this e-commerce age expect short delivery time, sometimes same-day even (thanks, Amazon), would not be pleased, environmental-friendlier option be damned. But what a sail-powered cargo fleet can offer is lower costs of shipping for consumers (’cause, c’mon, that’s what we mostly care about); shipping companies would have to use just a fraction of the fossil fuel they did before and nature sells wind for, well, free.

At the moment, tests are being made with 7-meter models but Wallenius Marine believes the Oceanbird will be ready for order in 2021 and ready for launch in 2024, which is really not that far from now.

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