Researchers test sail for energy-efficient cargo ship

January 27, 2014

By TASUKU UEDA/ Staff Writer

SASEBO, Nagasaki Prefecture--Testing is under way for a wind-power project that researchers say could change the face of maritime shipping.

The goal of the project, consisting of members from Oshima Shipbuilding Co. of Saikai, Nagasaki Prefecture, the University of Tokyo and Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, is to develop a next-generation cargo ship using stronger sails that could cut fuel costs by 30 percent.

Tests of the new sail made from fiber-reinforced plastic started in January in Sasebo at a subsidiary of Oshima Shipbuilding to take advantage of the strong northwesterly winds commonly found in winter. The experiment on Jan. 25 was open to the media.

The research group has dubbed the sail “koyokuhan,” which roughly translates into “hard-winged sail.”

The experimental sail measures 20 meters high and 8 meters wide, but it is only about 40 percent of the size the group is seeking to commercialize.

The researchers are checking the strength of the sail as well as a control system designed to rotate and change the size of the sail depending on wind direction for maximum propulsion.

The long-term goal is to commercialize a hybrid cargo ship that can navigate using either sails or a diesel engine.

“The plan is to use the wind that had been a barrier to navigation until now as an energy source and to turn it into a power that can change the concept of ships,” said research group leader Kazuyuki Ouchi. “We hope to continue to make progress toward our goal.”

Ouchi is a project research fellow at the University of Tokyo graduate school who is an expert in naval and ocean engineering.

The researchers plan to install four sets of sails on a cargo ship measuring 220 meters in length that can carry 84,000 tons of cargo.

Group members said they hope to reduce fuel by an annual average of 30 percent for roundtrips on a northern Pacific route between Tokyo and Seattle. The new ship would also have lower emissions of carbon dioxide.

The construction cost of the new cargo ship is expected to be about 5 billion yen ($49 million), about 1 billion yen more than a normal cargo ship of that size. However, the energy savings will allow for a recovery of the additional construction costs in five years’ time, they said.

By TASUKU UEDA/ Staff Writer
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An illustration of the next-generation cargo vessel (Provided by the University of Tokyo)

An illustration of the next-generation cargo vessel (Provided by the University of Tokyo)

  • An illustration of the next-generation cargo vessel (Provided by the University of Tokyo)
  • A prototype of a new sail being developed for an energy-efficient cargo ship. (Tasuku Ueda)

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