In a move to reduce the consumption of fuel by large merchant vessel fleets in the oceans, the Wind Challenger Project has been developed by a group which includes members from the University of Tokyo. Utilizing giant retractable sails that measure 50 meters high and 20 meters wide, annual fuel consumption can be lowered by as much as 30 percent. This idea has been considered for a long time now but was impractical as controlling sails became very cumbersome. Motor technology combined with the ability to forecast weather and gather maritime information has made the project look feasible today.
A lot of hard work has gone into the development. To obtain the maximum propulsion, the sails are controlled individually and each sail has been constructed in five telescoping tiers, which helps to contract the sails when the weather gets too rough. The sails are hollow and curved and are made of aluminum or fiber reinforced plastic. This makes them more like wings. Computer simulations and wind-tunnel testing have shown that this idea in itself will save a lot of energy in times of crosswinds. Thus, the Wind Challenger is literally an “air”craft on water.
There is a lot of intelligence built into the system and the Wind Challenger will be able to take a route of least fuel consumption rather than the shortest one. Like all grand ideas, this wind-powered ship too comes at a price. The sails cost about $2.5 million each. But the durability and speed of the ship will help recover the cost within 5-6 years and the time after that will be savings in terms of fuel, time and energy. Plans for the first sea-voyage in 2016 after elaborate prototype testing are set, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.