Can wind energy really power modern cargo ships? We've seen the idea of hybrid freighters before, but this concept from the University of Tokyo has a remarkable sail system.
A model of the UT Wind Challenger was recently shown off at the Sea Japan trade show in Tokyo. It would have giant telescoping sails that rise above the deck when wind conditions are good.
As seen in the vid below, University of Tokyo professor Kiyoshi Uzawa and collaborators believe this hybrid system could cut fuel consumption by cargo ships by about 30 percent.
The rigid sails would be 164 feet tall and 65 feet wide, made of aluminum and fiber-reinforced plastic. Consisting of five sections, they would be individually controlled by motors to automatically catch the wind at the best angle.
Uzawa likens the hollow sails to wings on a plane. He and his colleagues performed simulations for routes such as Yokohama-Seattle that showed a one-third fuel savings on average using the sail system.
Wind has been shown to be an effective cost-cutter with the MS Beluga SkySails, which completed a two-month sea voyage with a kite system in 2008, saving about $1,000 a day.
At $2.5 million apiece, the cost of the UT Wind Challenger sails could be recovered in five to ten years assuming 25 percent fuel savings, according to Uzawa. He plans to build a half-size prototype vessel and sea trials as early as 2016.
Plastering the sails with ads could surely bring the cost down further. All the ship would need is a few good cannons.