SkySails – Towing Kites For Ships

SkySails is a new alternative propulsion system for ships. This innovative system consists of a large automated towing kite designed to significantly decrease ships’ operation costs. The kite has a nominal power of up to 5,000 kW (about 6,800 HP), and is intended to lower fuel consumption rates by 10%-35% on average, and by up to 50% in optimal wind conditions. . No additional personnel is needed to operate this technology, as the system is fully automatic. The christening of “Beluga SkySails”, the world’s first cargo ship equipped with a SkySails-System, took place on December 15th, 2007.

Since wind-conditions are not always sufficient, the SkySails system is designed to function as a supplementary power source, in addition to the ship’s engine. SkySails consists of a towing kite, a control system, a launch and recovery system and a wind-optimized routing system. The parafoil kite is constructed out of high-strength, weatherproof textiles, and  is designed in such a way that it can achieve optimal aerodynamic efficiency at any wind speed.

The steering system operates automatically and is composed of the control pod and the control system. The towing kite and the towing rope are linked by the control pod. Much like autopilot systems in airplanes, the SkySails’ sensors collect data that is processed by the system’s software, which sends control orders accordingly.

The launch and recovery system is responsible for automatically recovering and launching the towing kite, control pod and towing rope. The kite is attached at only one point to the launch and recovery mast, enabling high maneuverability. A telescopic mast lifts the towing kite during its launch. The wind unfolds the kite to its full size while the reef system launches the reef ropes. While the towing kite is decoupled from the launch and recovery mast, the towing rope is released.

The power transmission system consists of a towing rope, a force transmission point (tow point), and winch, and is responsible for transferring the tractive force from the kite to the ship. The mounting system ensures that the towing kite’s force is aligned ideally to suit the wind’s direction.

The routing system is composed of a weather forecasting performance calculator, which processes the weather forecasting data and of a decision-making model, which calculates the optimal route following priorities set by the ship’s owner. Finally, the routing system has a route recommendation feature, which translates the information into a series of waypoints read by the shipmaster.

The SkySails system also improves the ship’s safety and performance on water as it damps the waves so that the ship suffers from less slamming and torsion forces. In addition, as a result of smoother sailing, the ship’s “life” is extended. A short video of a ship equipped with the SkySails system is available here.

TFOT has covered the wind powered Magenn Air Rotor System (MARS), which is the first commercial flying wind turbine. TFOT also covered the plans to build the largest offshore wind farm in the world, approved by the U.K.According to the wind farm plan, 341 gigantic turbines will be built near the Thames estuary off the south-east coast of England. More recently, TFOT covered a new concept being developed by Windhunter, of a floating rig designed to convert the ocean’s winds into electricity. The electricity generated by the rig will be used to create hydrogen, which will serve as a fuel for a land-based ‘green’ power plant.

More information on the SkySails system is available on the company’s website.

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