WindShip: Return Of The Age Of Sail

Everything old is new again. Norwegian engineer Terje Lade, managing director of Lade AS, has patented a design, called WindShip, for modern cargo ships that lets the wind move them forward toward their destination, reports PhysOrg. If it looks a lot like an airplane wing, that’s no coincidence.

Lade’s idea uses the same laws of physics that make airplanes fly and sailboats sail. If you force air to travel around one side of an object faster than the other, a vacuum is created. The science of it involves a lot of talk about center of effort and resulting vectors, but the nub of it is, a boat sailing into the wind is sucked forward by the partial vacuum that forms on the back side of the sail and not by wind pushing on the front side. By carefully shaping the hull of a ship, Lade says that same force can be harnessed to move it forward at speeds up to 19 knots — about the same speed as conventional ships.

Why bother? Because 90% of all the goods on earth travel by sea at some point. Today’s ships burn bunker oil, the heaviest, dirtiest oil there is. All those ships on all those oceans spew millions of tons of crud into the atmosphere every year. If we can harness the wind to help move them for place to place, that would allow then to use smaller, more efficient engines. Perhaps they could stop burning bunker oil and start using clean burning natural gas instead. That’s the idea, anyway. If adopted worldwide, the environment would breathe a huge sigh of relief.

To make the idea work, though, requires highly sophisticated weather mapping to coordinate the route the ship takes with the most favorable winds. Researchers from Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services have developed customized weather routing software that uses meteorological data to calculate a route with the optimum angle to the wind in order to maximize the potential of Lade’s design.

The WindShip design is intended for use by ships like car carriers, big ferries, container ships and LNG carriers. The first vessel is scheduled to enter maritime service in 2019. Perhaps a new era of sailing ships is just around the corner?

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.