Dirty cargo ships urgently searching for cleaner propulsion alternatives might consider a new spin on an old idea: inflatable sails.
What’s new: The Wing Sail Mobility (WISAMO) project, an automated, inflatable wing sail system, was introduced this week by Michelin, the French company known for its tires and restaurant guides.
- Two Swiss inventors co-developed the system with Michelin R&D.
- The telescopic mast is retractable, making it easy for a ship to enter harbors and pass under bridges.
- The puffy, 1,000-square-foot sails, each shaped like an airplane wing, automatically fold up like an accordion on the ship’s deck when not in use.
Why it matters: Michelin says the system — which operates in addition to conventional propulsion — can improve a ship’s fuel efficiency by up to 20%. (Watch a video of how it might work here.)
The big picture: The shipping industry, which accounts for almost 3% of the world’s carbon emissions, is scrambling to adopt cleaner technologies.
- In 2018 the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations regulatory agency, set tough new targets for greenhouse gas reduction.
- By 2050, shipping needs to reduce emissions by 50% compared to 2008 levels, with the goal of eventually phasing out all greenhouse emissions.
What to watch: French sailor and racer Michel Desjoyeaux has been testing the WISAMO system on a sailboat.
- It will then be tested on a merchant ship in 2022 before going into production.
- The plug-and-play design can be retrofitted to existing vessels — including pleasure craft — or designed into new ships.