back to article Germans debut kitesurf-powered autonomous windjammer

A new commercial cargo ship which will harness wind power to achieve greater fuel economy was christened in Hamburg on Saturday. MV Beluga SkySails will use an enormous, football-pitch sized tethered aerofoil to pull itself along, in much the same way as a kite-surfer. Skysail pulling a ship in trials Whoa, dude - that's one …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Defeatist talk

    "Even in a world where every ship suddenly had a massive kite achieving 30 per cent efficiencies, that would equate to barely a one per cent worldwide CO2 saving, which would be wiped out by reasonable economic growth in less than 20 years."

    Damn, I thought switching my main lights to diffuse energy saving bulbs was helping CO2 emmissions by reducing my electricity requirements by 1138 KWatts hours annually, but I note now that a growth in world energy consumption of 0.001% would wipe out that gain in 14ns.

    So now I wish I'd never bothered!

    Oh well, there's always the 80 Euros a year saving in electricity.

  2. Neil Hoskins

    Saving Money

    "...But it could well reduce fuel bills and make money for shippers - and thus for the technology's creators..."

    But in a capitalist society, isn't that the whole point? Everything in the end boils down to pounds, shillings, and pence. And nobody does anything out of the goodness of their hearts unless it also makes them money. Trying to drive these pathetic "initiatives" using good intentions alone (or at best, the marketing departments) is doomed to failure. Only when the bean counters become involved will something happen. I find it incredible that so many people are naive enough to think otherwise.

  3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    This only works efficiently...

    downwind and with a favourable tide.

    What cargo ships really need to make them eco friendly is a mast, some sails and less demanding delivery lead times.

  4. Dave S

    Erm.... it me?

    Or does the success of this project depend greatly on the ship travelling in the same direction as the wind?

  5. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Revolution in propulsion?

    Shouldn't that be a "retrovolution"?

  6. Hein Kruger

    Truly revolutionary!

    "This is the start of a revolution for the way ships are powered"

    Wind powered ships? Well I never! What will they think of next?

  7. Peter W

    so we shouldn't try and make any savings at all then?

    If all industries could make 15-30% savings that would be a real boost to fuel efficiency and slow down the increase in CO2. But why when I read most articles on el reg that cover the subject (and especially any by Lewis Page) do I feel that he's basically a global warming sceptic or has just decided to throw in the towel and not to try solve the problem?

    Kudos to the company thats developed this, lets hope it works: apart from transport of goods/commodities large ships such as cruise liners would also seem suitable in some situations..

  8. Anigel

    realist talk

    I dunno about defeatist talk but to me it seems realist talk.

    Its all well and good running the UK back into the stone age in thename of decreasing CO2 but in the major scheme of things its totally pointless and more than a smattering of stopping the tide coming in.

    Until they stop trying to blame humans for climate change and stop trying to tax them for it then there is no hope for any of us as the so called exspurts (whose entire funding depends on continued predictions of doom and gloom) will never predict a rosier future just a constant everything is too little too late.

  9. Phil the Geek

    It may not be Friday, but it's nearly Christmas

    I couldn't visualise how much global warming this could prevent. Maybe a Vulture Unit of greenhouse gas emission would help. It could also be used to quantify data centre environmental impact. The Kinnock? Or the Clarkson?

  10. Steve

    Not new

    Didn't the Japanese try this with fixed blade-like sails on cargo ships, years ago? It didn't seem to catch on.

    @DaveS - presumably they can tack, else there would be a lot of kite surfers sitting in the doldrums trying to hitch a lift home...

  11. Colin Millar
    Thumb Up

    Where is the....

    Government data loss angle?

  12. Edward Rose

    Can't automate traditional sails.

    Don't mean to p*ss on this designer's parade, but last time I checked, an automated 1 man sailing system was more than possible.

    'Traditional sailing' doesn't use it as it isn't traditional, it would require motors and computers. The question is, would sails survive something as block like as the average modern cargo ship. I reckon it could easily, but I'm not exactly experienced..

    Glad to know Branson became a Millionaire over night, and just threw all those pennies away to achieve it.

  13. Adam Collett

    Oh dear oh dear oh dear

    "This is the start of a revolution for the way ships are powered"

    Admiral Lord Nelson would be turning in his grave, as would several other prominent sailors.....

  14. Kit Temple
    Thumb Down

    1% saving is nothing?

    It seems a pretty stupid comment to make to say that a 1% drop in global CO2 emmissions is a waste of time.

    A solution to a specific sector that can result in a 1% drop across the whole world seems very nice to me....

  15. Fred


    'Shouldn't that be a "retrovolution"?'

    Yea, didnt they used to do this years ago without masive engines? New technology ; my_arse_is_on_fire

    They even discovered new continents etc... and now they cant find squat...

    What a waste of technology.

  16. archie lukas

    Sounds familiar

    Isn't there one of these monsters in dry dock in Portsmouth harbour

    I seem to remember some chap called Brunel built one......

  17. JeffyPooh

    There's more to GHG than just CO2

    Ships burn the dirtiest of all fuels - bunker oil. And they're not exactly fitted with catalytic converters... That thick column of black garbage seen rising into the air contains, amoung other things, NOx. NOx is ~far worse~ a Greenhouse Gas than CO2. Not to mention the smell...

    Solving good old fashioned air pollution (CO, HC, NOx) would be something that would have obvious direct benefits as well as global warming benefits. This global obsession with CO2 (IN THE ABSENSE OF ANY ACTIVITY RELATED TO OTHER POLUTANTS) is less than efficient. Logic dictates that we should address the easy end of the '80/20 rule' (like NOx) first, before trying to solve the difficult and expensive end (CO2).

  18. Edward Barrow

    too much stuff

    The mistake is to assume that growth is linked to buying and shipping more stuff. It's true that buying, making and shipping more cheaper and crappier stuff has been the way of progress for a century or two, but less-better-more expensive stuff is the way to go now at least for us in the rich world.

    Has anyone noticed the number of self-storage depots springing up all over the place? People don't have room for all the stuff they've already got. Chucking it all out soon won't be an option either, with landfill tax and weeee directives.

  19. Nìall Tracey

    The reason for the end of the age of sail.....

    The most important contributing factor to the end of the sailing ship wasn't speed at sea, as most people assume, but speed at port.

    A fully-rigged square-rigger is almost impossible to unload with a crane -- there's just too much rope, wood and canvas in the way. Everything would need to be unloaded by a couple of dozen people and a sailing boat could spend a day or two in port, whereas an engine-powered boat could be emptied in an hour or two by a couple of crew-members.

    One of the benefits of the skysail system is the minimal deck space required, meaning crane access is not restricted.

    As for the "only sailing with the wind"... no.

    A) This is an aerofoil -- it can be driven by winds in a range of ~270º and is at it's *least* efficient when travelling with the wind (due to a lower difference in speed between the wind and the sail)

    B) I believe boats still travel with the prevailing wind wherever possible anyway (it's safer, smoother and quicker).

    C) It's not the sole means of locomotion, and unlike a traditional rig isn't a source of drag when travelling under engine power.

    It's an interesting project, and I hope it does well and survives a few stormy seas.

  20. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I'm eagerly anticipating the day...

    when I can watch ten thousand cars an hour being towed up the M1 by kites...

  21. John

    The future of air travel

    The romantic in me would like to see a return to the golden age of sail, even if it's only sail-supplemented motorised shipping. As the article says, the amount of carbon saved would be small, but a huge amount of carbon might be saved if aeroplanes took up the technology.

    Of course engines will always be needed to get a flight airborne and up to cruising altitude. But once there why not pop up a massive spinnaker and let the jetstreams propel the 'plane? Pilots routinely plan their routes to take advantage of tail winds, and spinnakers are downwind sails so ideally suited. The speeds of the winds in the lower stratosphere are enormous. And an aeroplane could fly a kite above, below and to either side, capturing a lot of wind. It wouldn't matter much if the pilot's view were obstructed since there's little to look at up there.

    Air travel is one of the main culprits in polluting the atmosphere with CO2; an innovation like this could save the world.

  22. Tawakalna
    Paris Hilton

    football pitches are equivalent to?

    so it's a sail the size of a football pitch - UK, European, American, and how Paris Hiltons or lines of beluga caviar or yak horn combs does that convert to?

    and it's hardly impressive, is it? if it was "the size of Wales" I'd be much more interested.

    No Paris Hilton angle in this at all, or IT; sure this isn't Sailing Weekly or A Sailing Man and his Rough Shag?

  23. JP Strauss

    Bring on the Nobel prize for physics

    Why not Add another three kites and have a 120% efficiency? This way you will generate energy from nothing, breaking an age old scientific law, and thereby create a massive black hole, sucking up all the CO2 in the atmosphere and solving our global warming/greenhouse gas problem once and for all.


  24. Chris Griffin
    Dead Vulture

    @lewis page

    The author of this article clearly has some kind of chip in his shoulder, or is just a little misguided.

    "a one per cent worldwide CO2 saving, which would be wiped out by reasonable economic growth in less than 20 years."

    Surely if this invention saves 15% now, won't it also save 15% in 20 years when demand is higher?

  25. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Paris Hilton


    As the worst pollutant in Bunker Fuel 6 is about 3% sulphur, that fertiliser that makes Mediterranean volcanoes so attractive to farmers. If it was funnelled directly into the sea it might help conserve plant life in the oceans.

    And as for the idiocy in Paris' article, the sail system if it works looks like it could <s>single</s>no-handedly compensate for <s>projected</s>his projected figures for future carbon use.

    Not that I am a glowball warmonger.

  26. Hud Dunlap
    Thumb Up

    Lord Thomas Admiral Cochran

    I hope I got that right. I am not good with english titles. I am sure he is spinning is his grave with glee. In his Autobiography he mentiones doing exactly this. It gave a big boost in speed to his ship.

    That should make for an interesting "prior art" patent fight.

  27. Jonathan Richards

    @John - jet stream spinnakers

    The only reason that a stratocruiser (remember them?) stays airborne is because of its relative motion to the air; air needs to be flowing over and under the wings to generate the lift. You will notice that if your airliner has a tailwind, you'll get to your destination sooner. The pilot can't reduce the engines to idle and coast along on the airstream: if he slows down to the same speed as the air, you'll fall out of the sky. So being towed along at altitude by a kite is not feasible.

    The skull and crossbones, not for the piracy angle, but for its danger connotation.

  28. John
    Thumb Up

    @ Jonathan Richards - jet stream spinnakers

    Damn, my plan would have worked perfectly, if it hadn't been for those pesky wings.

    Back to the drawing board then. Let's do away with the wings and get lift from somewhere else. Rotors perhaps. Deploy a spinnaker from a helicopter. Choppers really are fuel-guzzlers, so there's even more scope for world-saving reductions in consumption. The effort from a whirlybird's engines has two components - lift, and forward motion. Tethering the wind at least would save the fuel used in propelling the vessel forwards. And probably move helicopters faster than they've ever moved before. Go green and go faster!

    I hope I'm not going to hear next that choppers can't get high enough to harness the jetstreams. Enough with that "can't do" attitude - let your imagination reach for the skies. Think of the polar bears, man! The helicopter fuselage itself wouldn't need to get into the stratosphere, just the sail. A long enough halyard would do the trick.

    In fact why limit ourselves to just spinnakers? A good Bermudan rig can sail upwind as well. And as I mentioned with my original aeroplane idea it needn't go on the top where it would interfere with the rotors. It could go underneath, upside down (in respect to sailing boats). Just stick a mast out the bottom of the chopper, with a jib and a mainsail and a boom.

    This technological revolution may know no bounds! One day we'll sail to the moon.

  29. Robert Hill

    @Nìall Tracey

    Nice points you brougth up about the death of sailing ships being tied to their cargo loading.

    However, where this idea falls down is that these modern cargo ships have no keel form at all, and are therefore unable to use the kite for much more than anything but dead downwind. On a traditional sailing vessel, there is some keel (even if it is not a full-on fin keel), that generates forward propulsion when on a reach.

    If this idea proves workable, we will need a change in ship designs to give us back some element of keel form to allow a wider range of wind angles.


  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Given that modern steel ships sit pretty deep in the water, I'd've thought their hulls would provide adeqate keel without any additions. At least while empty...

  31. Fred


    Kites definitely don't have to drag you downwind. Kitesurfers can manage about 10 degrees or so upwind. A ship should be able to manage more.

    I wouldn't count on it being trouble free though. Wind drops... kite in the water... ship runs over it...

    It's hard enough when it's when it's just you, a board and a kite designed to be relaunched from the water. Foil kites (like this one) can be a nightmare.

  32. Rick Brasche


    could this be downscaled to power smaller craft? Like all those personal yachts the Algoreans and other enviro-weenies pour diesel fuel through when the Media isn't watching?

    Though if this thing is fully automatic, reliable, and easy to use, would a yachter without sail-specific skills be able to take full advantage of this? If it only cost the equivalent of a secondary engine and a few tanks of fuel, then it'd be quite the option it have installed. And if it can pull a fully loaded freighter, how fast could it yank a twenty-foot boat? Wheeee!

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    supertanker with a dagger board?

    Maybe not exactly, but not far off. Some passenger ferries already have retractable foils with active control for roll stabilisation. It shouldn't be too hard to adapt these designs to active centreboard duty. Might want to move the kite attachment further aft though...

  34. Ryan
    Paris Hilton

    Surely renaissance

    not revolution

  35. Tim

    @John - jet stream spinnakers

    Heliocopters have a maximum horizontal speed. Due to one blade moving forward while the other moves backwards. So when they reach this speed they'll flip. I'm not sure about if it's being dragged by a kite etc, but it will almost certainly proove lethal (which would seem to explain how helicopters don't like heavy winds)

  36. Hrishikesh

    @Colin Millar - Never underestimate ...

    Never underestimate the data-loss capacity of a cargo ship carrying HMRC Backup Tapes hurtling towards $phishers...

    (with apologies to Andrew Tanenbaum)

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    prior art?

    Besides the "revolutionary" idea of sailing using wind, even Kevin Costner's boat in Waterworld had one of these kite sails.

  38. laird cummings
    Thumb Up

    Not, not prior art...

    Not unless you're referring to kitesurfers. Then, I suppose you'd have a point. Nelson, et al, didn't use kites, they used sails - you know, big billowy things firmly attached to masts and yards?

    As for the keelson issue - most cargoships are so deep draft that the hull itself serves the purpose. Even if it didn't, simply applying a little cross rudder, and you've met the need. Yeah, you might lose a couple of those percentage points of savings, but savings is still savings, even if it's not as much as before.

    The winds, and steadiness of same, issue was explicitly addressed in the article - you get the kite up above about 1000 feet, and winds are much more reliable.

    Modern attempts to recreate the modern sail have partly failed because of the relative sail area vs. hull size - You wind up with staggeringly large masts and sails to get any kind of real savings, and the added weight and complexity wind up deminishing your returns. Kites, OTOH, don't require massive, complex masts, and can reach stronger, steadier winds.

    I like the whole idea, myself.

  39. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    @ John

    Helicopter blades are simply wings that are moving faster then the aircraft. If you stop the helicopter blades (in order to surf off the winds with your kite) your helicopter will fall out of the sky. As helicopters have a tendency to fall out of the sky anyway (even without a kite) your idea may not be the safest!

    Quote: "If in your aircraft the wings are moving faster then the body - its a helicopter and therefore unstable"

  40. Rich
    Thumb Down

    Baseload power source

    Why is one needed?

    Sailing ships never had them. A ship on the open ocean can always drift, while one in coastal waters can anchor.

    (Anchoring is a common technique in yacht racing when becalmed).

  41. Cambrasa

    Foil technology does not equal sail technology

    This is revolutionary insofar as it doesn't need a mast and it utilises high winds which are stronger and more reliable.

    And no, it doesn't only work downwind. Just like a sail, the foil can make use of the Bernoulli effect.

  42. lglethal Silver badge

    @ Rich

    Cargo ships have deadlines, hence the need for a base power source. A yacht can turn up at its destination whenever the hell it wants!

  43. JP Strauss

    How about...

    ... making convicted felons do the rowing for you?

  44. dodge
    Gates Halo

    Harder than it looks

    A couple of guys have been trying this for a few years on leisure sail boats, but it's a lot harder than it looks (the kite falling out the sky in lulls mentioned above is just one prob). See and

    From the comments above, it's clear that most readers misunderstand how power kites work -- they act like wings generating lift, not like giant parachutes.

    I also rather think the global warming skeptics utterly miss the point again... burning lots of oil inefficiently creates air pollution, wastes resources and ultimately costs companies and ultimately consumers more money. Whether or not you believe CO2 causes climate change, reducing air pollution, saving fuel and reducing costs are good. Even right-wing economic conservatives with a borderline-sexual obsession with the Wonders of the Free Market System can see that, surely?

    Just ask yourself. What Would Bill Gates Do?

  45. Daniel Hutty

    Only 1%? Best not bother then...

    If everyone with a possible idea to reduce the ecological impact of their industry were to think "Oh, even in the best-case, idealist's-wet-dream scenario that'll only make a 1% reduction on emissions worldwide - what's the point in bothering?" then I'd hate to think what state our planet will be in a couple of decade's from now.

    Yes, it's a small improvement, even at best.

    But let's say it reaches even a 0.5% worldwide improvement. Then imagine that 9 other people have ideas which bring about similarly small improvements. Suddenly we have a 5% reduction. Start to seem worthwhile yet?

    If this was going to do something aweful like cost the tax payer a few more pennies of their income (shock horror!) then I could see an objection - but when it not only saves on emissions but on cost as well, I can really see no reason to pooh-pooh the idea.

    And also - isn't the idea of huge ships being pulled by giant kites just inherently *cool* in and of itself?

  46. Sweep

    @ Lewis

    I like to read any article by Lewis, especially those which touch on e.g. global warming or UK military procurement, aloud and in the style of Neil from The Young Ones.

    It makes them seem slightly less shit.

  47. Andrew Listochkin
    Thumb Up

    A size of football field?

    That's a lot of ad-space, man! Let Google invest in it, let them advertise and help us protecting the environment! Hey, don't be evil, guys - buy some kites for pour ship-owners! If they manage to enlarge those kites, I’ll be happy to them in Google Earth!

    BTW, what about zeppelins with kites? I mean, really BIG zeppelins with BIG kites (and with BIG ads, if you like)?

  48. Dave Bell

    Storms and Weather

    Let us not forget that ships have always been lost in extreme conditions. We have better weather forecasts now, but this system doesn't replace the conventional engines, and losing the sail need not endanger the ship.

    But I wouldn't be surprised if few of these ships ever risked the Southern Ocean.

  49. Mark Daniels

    @ Edward Barrow

    Mr Barrow.......

    I agree 173%.

    I have spent the last few years working out of the UK. Africa mainly. I'm in Madagascar right now.

    I have seen more cheep Chinese shite over the past few years than I care to recall. Africa is full of the stuff. And it is all, uniformly and utterly shite.

    Buying cheap is a false economy, everyone knows that.

    Like doing your weekly shopping in a Spar.

    The problem is thee are three million Irish who think Spar is the best place to do ther weekly shopping and 500milion [more ?] Africans who think China is the home of quality.

    Answer is to stop buying from China.

    Result : less cheap crap means less waste, means less pollution, less transportation costs and emissions and, heaven forbid, a UK manufacturing industry.

    Heavens, whatever next.


  50. Ishkandar

    @Hein Kruger

    Don't laugh !! I hear that a fart-powered one is on the drawing board ....

  51. Ishkandar

    New, revolutionary idea ??

    Not really !! It was in use during the days of the tall ships to capture/use the winds at a higher altitude than the ship's mast(s), especially to pull it through the Doldrums.

    BTW, it also has an exact opposite equivalent in the sea-anchor !!

  52. Dave P

    180 Degree Wind Window

    If this thing works anything like a Kite surfer you have a 180 Degree wind window so You can travel in several different directions depending on the wind. It's true if you headed up wind it will not work at all...So just real it in...Or put it in Nutral which is directly above the boat.

    We are talking about a 1% reduction in global CO2 output that is huge!

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