"Wind is free fuel."

Come Sail Away

In a win for both the environment and the bottom line of shipping corporations, a growing number of container ships are using sails to propel themselves across the ocean.

It's a simple idea that's been around for millennia, a win-win for those hauling materials over vast distances.

"We want to decarbonize — why not use what’s available?" Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill Ocean Transportation, told the New York Times. "Wind is free fuel."

Switching over more oceangoing vessels to make use of wind currents could have a considerable effect on global emissions. The shipping industry contributes around three percent of all greenhouse gases.

High as a Kite

Case in point: the Pyxis Ocean, which used two collapsible 125-ton sails to make its way from China to Brazil. According to Dieleman, the sails can cut fuel usage by a whopping 30 percent.

Instead of relying on solid masts, other companies like French company Airseas are developing kites that can be deployed to drag a ship across the sea while flying almost 1,000 feet above the surface, where much stronger winds blow.

While the tech has come a long way, vessels typically still need backup fuel — especially when there's no wind.

But any bit of saved fuel can help.

"Every ton of carbon you save is actually a third of a ton of fuel that you save," Dieleman told the NYT. "We need to get the emissions profile down today."

Gone With the Wind

The vast majority of countries agreed earlier this year to eliminate all of the shipping industry's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, there's been significant blowback from nations that rely on oil and maritime trade.

Despite the headwind — forgive us — a growing number of countries have committed to developing wind-ships, high-tech vessels that can respond to quickly changing conditions with the use of sensors.

And given the saved fuel, even retrofitting older vessels could pay off in just a matter of three to five years, according to the NYT.

It's a promising new development for an industry that has historically been incredibly environmentally harmful. With the right strategy, the shipping industry has a real chance to slowly lessen its dependence on fossil fuels — and that can only be a good thing.

More on ships with sails: Several Companies Are Switching From Cargo Vessels to Wooden Sailing Ships

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