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Cargill Buys Giant Kites to Cut Carbon

Shipping company Cargill plans to use giant sails to reduce its fuel consumption.

Cargill signed an agreement with Hamburg-based SkySails GmbH & Co. to use its 320 sq m kites, which fly ahead of vessels at a height of 100 to 420 meters. The kites generating propulsion which can reduce the consumption of bunker fuel by up to 35 percent.

This December, Cargill will install a kite on a handysize vessel, which weighs between 25,000 and 30,000 deadweight tons. It will be the world’s largest vessel propelled by a kite, Cargill said. The two companies hope to have the system fully operational by the first quarter of 2012.

Cargill is currently helping SkySails develop and test the technology and has identified a ship-owner with whom it will partner on the project.

The SkySails kite will be connected to the ship by rope, and an automatic control system will adjust its flight path. All information related to the system’s operation is displayed on the monitor of a SkySails workstation on the ship’s bridge.

“We are excited that our technology will shortly be used on a handysize vessel for the first time and see great potential to incorporate it on larger ships in the future,” SkySails managing director Stephan Wrage said.

The freight sector represents about 25 percent of U.S. transportation sector emissions, or about eight percent of all U.S. emissions, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Since 1990, emissions attributed to freight have climbed 60 percent, compared to 27 percent for passenger travel.

Kites are one major method of reducing ships’ greenhouse gas emissions, the EDF has said. Other methods being used by shipping companies include heat recovery and running at slower speed.

A United Nations (International Maritime Organisation) study found that up to 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved every year by the broad application of SkySails’ technology on the world merchant fleet, SkySail said.

“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. “We are very impressed with the technology and see its installation on one of our chartered ships as the first part of an ongoing, long-term partnership.”

Cargill does not own or operate ships, but its transportation business transports more than 185 million tons of commodities a year, including agricultural, industrial and energy-related goods.

In December it joined the Forum for the Future’s Sustainable Shipping Initiative.

Cargill also operates a major agribusiness, and offers financial and industrial products and services. The company showed mixed results in meeting its 2010 environmental goals, according to its 2010 Corporate Responsibility Report. Cargill improved its energy efficiency (per unit of production) by 11 percent, from its fiscal 2001 baseline, but was short of its 20 percent goal, and while it improved greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity by 1.5 percent from its baseline, it missed its 8 percent goal.

Danish shipping company Maersk Line recently unveiled a fleet of container ships that it called the world’s largest and most energy efficient, emitting half the emissions of the industry average for vessels on the Asia-Europe route.

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