The New York Times served me an article yesterday that caught my fancy: cargo ships transitioning to wind power in order to lower fuel costs and environmental impact. The article was actually Can Massive Cargo Ships Use Wind to Go Green?
Question headlines are classic click-bait, and the answer, as is so often the case, turned out to be, “Yeah. Kinda. Maybe.” The subtitle of the article is, “Cargo vessels belch almost as much carbon into the air each year as the entire continent of South America. Modern sails could have a surprising impact.”
The article is hella long, and tells me more than I want to know about the players, but I read it, so you don’t have to.
At the most fundamental level, the way modern sails work is similar to the way sails did a thousand years ago: As wind moves against their curves, it creates a high-pressure system on one side and a low-pressure system on the other, resulting in a forward thrust that pushes the ship along. But the design, materials and size of modern sails, along with the ships’ movements, allow them to harness significantly more power from the wind than the cloth sails of the past — enough so that they can move a huge cargo vessel. In conjunction with fuel, modern sails can power ships with something close to the speed and predictability to which the global economy is accustomed.Aurora Almendral for The New York Times Climate Issue
Some of the ships under development use soft, square sails stacked onto masts, like the famously fast clipper ships of the 19th century, but with sleeker, larger designs. Others look nothing like the ships of old. One design calls for a narrow-bodied ship rising high above the water, so that part of the hull itself functions as a sail. Another has a line of smooth, hard, upward-reaching sails along its center, arranged like the plates of a stegosaurus. A fourth features rigid rectangular sails that would retract to allow ship-to-shore cranes to pull containers off at port. There are even plans to fit cargo ships with huge kites that unfurl ahead of them, pulling the ship along on a good wind.Aurora Almendral for The New York Times Climate Issue
Although relatively few ships are fitted or are planned to be fitted/retrofitted with wind-use technology, the number is growing. As traditional fuel prices increase and costly alternative fuels are mandated, using wind power to reduce fuel use will become more and more attractive. And, as demand and investment increase, the cost of “sails” will go down.
Gavin Allwright has founded the International Windship Association, which is a steampunk name if I ever heard one, to facilitate communication and implementation. The splash page of IWA’s Decade of Wind Propulsion has many beautiful photographs of various wind-propelled/assisted ships. Eye candy.
Color me bedazzled.
A WRITING PROMPT FROM ME TO YOU: Write about wind.