The shipping industry is working hard to reduce its carbon footprint. Last week, we reported that the world’s largest shipping company, Maersk, bought 10 of the most eco-friendly cargo ships, and Japanese company Eco Marine developed rigid solar sails that can power ships by harnessing the wind. Now, Cargill shipping joins the green ranks with their announcement of a partnership with Hamburg-based SkySails, a company that creates 320 square meter kites that propel ships. Cargill will use a SkySail on its handysize vessel, which weighs between 25,000 and 30,000 tons. It will be the largest ship ever to be propelled by a kite.

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SkySails fly 100 to 400 meters above a ship, to which they are attached by rope. An automated control system adjusts the kite’s flight path, and a monitor on the SkySails’ workstation displays information related to a ship’s operation. The kites can cut a ship’s fuel consumption by 35 percent.

Cargill and SkySails are currently working together to develop and test the technology that will be used on the handysize ship. They have identified a ship owner who will use the kite, and they hope to have the system fully operational by the first quarter of 2012. Cargill does not own any ships itself, but its transportation business moves more than 185 million tons of goods each year.

“For some time, we have been searching for a project that can help drive environmental best practice within the shipping industry and see this as a meaningful first step”, said G.J. van den Akker, head of Cargill’s ocean transportation business, in a press release. In December, Cargill joined Forum for the Future’s Sustainable Shipping Initiative.

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According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the freight sector represents about 8 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. A study by the United Nations International Maritime Organization found that a broad application of SkySails technology on the world merchant fleet could cut up to 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“We are delighted that Cargill is the first company to embrace our technology on a vessel this large as part of its commitment to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping industry,” said Stephan Wrage, managing director of SkySails.

Wrage added that he hopes the partnership will lead to incorporation of the kites on larger ships in the industry — we do, too.


The Environmental Defense Fund said that kites are a major way for ships to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and help curb global warming. If Cargill finds success using SkySails on cargo ships, many other companies in the industry could begin to do the same.

Via Environmental Leader

Photo credits: SkySails