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Cargill Flies a Kite to Reduce Fuel Consumption

April 13, 2011
Food giant also seeks to reduce emissions with ocean-going kite.

The rising and ever volatile price of oil getting you down? Consider the strategy food and agriculture giant Cargill has adopted to reduce costs while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Later this year, Cargill plans to install a 3,444 square feet (320 square meters) kite on an ocean cargo ship, which the company has on long-term charter, which would make it reportedly the largest vessel propelled by a kite in the world.

Cargill is working with SkySails, a Hamburg, Germany-based developer, on this application of wind-powered logistics. SkySails has patented technology that uses a kite flying ahead of a shipping vessel, and that can generate enough propulsion to reduce consumption of bunker fuel by up to 35% in ideal sailing conditions. Cargill and SkySails aim to have the system fully operational in the first quarter of 2012.

Cargill plans to use a kite like this one to help transport ocean freight. Photo courtesy of SkySails
Cargill is currently helping SkySails develop and test the technology and has identified a ship owner with whom it will partner on the project.

The kite is connected to the ship by rope and is computer-controlled by an automatic pod to maximize the wind benefits. The kite functions at a height of 328 to 1,377 feet (100 to 420 meters) and flies in a "figure of eight" formation.

The SkySails system itself is automated and requires minimal action by the ship's crew. An automatic control system steers the kite and adjusts its flight path. All information related to the system' s operation is displayed on the monitor of the SkySails' workstation on the ship's bridge.

"For some time, we have been searching for a project that can help drive environmental best practice within the shipping industry and see this as a meaningful first step," says G.J. van den Akker, head of Cargill's ocean transportation business. "The shipping industry currently supports 90% of the world' s international physical trade. In a world of finite resources, environmental stewardship makes good business sense."

In addition to lowering greenhouse-gas emissions, the SkySails technology aims to significantly reduce fuel consumption and costs, van den Akker notes.

Cargill is one of the world's largest charterers of dry bulk freight. Although the company does not own or operate ships, its ocean transportation business annually ships more than 185 million metric tons of commodities.

In January 2008, the SkySails kite was first used to tow an ocean cargo vessel when DHL Global Forwarding used the technology to deliver particleboard shipments from Germany to Venezuela.

See Also:
Portrait of Supply Chain Visibility
Top 11 Priorities for Supply Chain Information Technology
Asian Manufacturers Consider Nearshoring, Too

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