A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo have developed the concept of hybrid ships, powered by both propellers and the wind. Their aim is to reduce fuel consumption for large merchant vessels, making transportation both cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
These sails are made of aluminum fiber reinforced plastics, each of which is 50 meters high and 20 meters wide and consists of sections that slide into each other. This makes it possible to regulate the height of the sails. The sails also have rotating engines that target them for the best possible wind angle.
The research team has simulated shipping routes and the results indicate that hybrid ships with sails and engines could reduce annual fuel consumption by about 30% on average.
As a researcher describes, “Using today’s technology, it’s possible to make big sails and to control them automatically. Also, navigation technology includes networked maritime information and weather forecasting, so ships like this can travel safely. Using wind energy, as in old-fashioned sailing ships, is actually feasible.”
The sails form and function makes them more like airplane wings than conventional sails. Since energy savings are the greatest with crosswinds, this implies that the optimal route to the destination might not be the shortest. Therefore, the addition of online weather forecasts part of the project.
Basic research is now completed and a prototype at the scale of 1:2 is to be built in the coming year and a full-size ship to sail in 2016.
The estimated price of the sails is estimated to be about 2,5 million dollars each. A cost that can be saved in five to ten years resulting from the reduction of fuel consumption.