Kite-Driven Beluga Skysail Completes 12,000 Mile Journey and Proves Concept

Beluga Skysails completes 12,000 mile voyage“We can once again actually ‘sail’ with cargo ships, thus opening a new chapter in the history of commercial shipping”

Thus is the verdict from MV Beluga Skysails captain Lutz Heldt upon completion of the vessel’s 12,000 mile round-trip maiden voyage. The crew and vessel were at sea for nearly two months, giving the “skysail” concept ample opportunity for testing and tweaking.

The journey took the ship from Germany to Venezuela, the United States, and then to Norway, arriving on March 13.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the ship’s progress here at Triple Pundit, from initial concept, sea trials, and now the round-trip completion of her first commercial voyage using the hybrid auxiliary power kite system installed on the Beluga Skysails.

Deployment of the 160–square-meter towing kite offset up to 20% of the engine’s power (and carbon emissions), saving an initial $1000 per day in fuel costs.

Future testing and plans for the system will focus on extending flight times and performance of the sail, as well as implementing a sail twice the size of the current one deployed on the Skysails. With the larger sail, savings of up to $2000 per day is possible, as well as further reduction in carbon emissions.

If all continues to go as well as it has, the Skysail concept will help usher in a new and innovative chapter in shipping.

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

11 responses

  1. The environmental and ecological problems caused by industrial shipping are numerous. They include consumption and burning of petroleum, making so much noise in the water that it disturbs marine mammals and sometimes makes it impossible for them to communicate, and introduction of non-native species, just to name a few off the top of my head.
    While these sails may reduce fuel consumption and burning and while that’s better than nothing, that’s all it is. Global trade is very ecologically harmful and should be eliminated or, at least, greatly reduced. Anything short of that is just tinkering around the edges of a very serious problem.

  2. Jeff – you’re right it’s only a drop in the bucket, but eliminating “global trade” just aint gonna happen, so no point even mentioning such an idea!

  3. Where’s the rest of the story? If the first “commercial” voyage is complete,
    why talk about “up to” 20% kite savings?
    The technology has great promise, but the premature story makes it look like vaporware.

  4. We’ve been following the progress of the Beluga concept since December. The story continues to unfold as the idea is tweaked and improved. Whether it turns out to be “vaporware” is too early to tell, but I don’t really agree that the story is “premature”
    The system can save on fuel costs while employed up to 20% depending on a variety of factors including wind speed and direction and if the crew is able to fully deploy the kite. There are plans to test a larger kite with savings of 30% – but again, this is under optimal conditions.

  5. All the very best wishes for the future with the skysail.
    With the British Serpentine Solar Shuttle being used with photo-voltaic for power, this is great but photo-voltaic is possibly only about 20% efficient, why not use the solar energy to heat water (according to info. they are about 70% efficient) and use this through a convertor to drive the propellor. I don’t know if this would work but an idea anyway.

  6. hm, never considered heat pump options for shipping power. that could be incorporated into the hull design, and would be dependant only upon sunlight availability. Coupled with devices like this beluga, and windmills, a very significant portion of energy could be conserved. And yes, it is a drop in a bucket, but with enough drops, an empty bucket gets filled. it all adds up. In time, fuel will run out, then what? These are all excellent time-buyers and steps along the journey towards fully renewable energy. Keep up the innovation.

  7. Eliminate global trade? What a ridiculous idea. Read up on comparative advantage some time.

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