A supertanker has grabbed news headlines over a design feature not seen on commercial vessels for almost a century: sails.
The Chinese Merchant Energy Shipping Company (CMES) took delivery of the mega-ship in late September, with early reports indicating the cargo vessel uses nearly 10% less fuel, thanks to its four massive 40-metre (130-feet) sails.
Hauling freight over the world’s oceans is a dirty business. At present, some 50 000 active merchant ships contribute about 1.7% of the planet’s emissions.
Almost all cargo ships run on diesel or heavy bunker fuel, a tar-like substance that is a by-product of crude oil refinement.
While there has been a push to find greener alternatives to diesel, including methanol, ethanol and batteries, that would involve retro-fitting entire power units – an expensive and often impractical endeavour.
When Rudolph Diesel introduced the world to his first engine in the late 19th century, the sail and the relatively short-lived steam engine eras came to an end.
But when research into global warming and ozone destruction showed fossil fuels to be unsustainable, the world’s shipwrights and engineers looked to the past for inspiration.
In 2012, Irish firm, B9 Shipping, put forward a design for a 100% sail-assisted cargo ship, though the concept was not developed further.
Moving forward, Oceanbird, a subsidiary of Scandinavian logistics giant, Wallenius Wilhelmson, is currently developing a cargo ship complete with retractable sails predicted to launch around 2026.
Enter CMES and its 333-metre (1 093-feet) supertanker, the M/V New Aden.
Built by Dalian Shipbuilding Industry Company and launched on September 24th, New Aden falls under the ‘very large crude carrier’ (VLCC) class, second only to the ‘ultra-large’ class (ULCC).
The monstrous ship’s 1 200 square-metre deck can accommodate roughly two million barrels of oil between destinations.
The M/V New Aden’s travels are aided by four carbon fibre, corrosion-resistant sails. The lightweight and retractable sails are located near the upper deck amidships and can be raised and lowered at the push of a button.
It’s all made possible by the Aerofoil Sails Intelligent Control system embedded in the ship. The sophisticated program monitors wind and other weather conditions, making adjustments to the sail orientation whenever necessary.
While not eliminating the need for a diesel engine altogether, M/V New Aden does dramatically cut emissions.
A standard trip from China to the Middle East will save an estimated 2 900 tons of harmful carbon dioxide gases from escaping into the already-compromised atmosphere, according to a New Atlas report.