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Back to the Future

In the automotive industry, manufacturers are looking for alternative ways to conserve energy with hybrids and hydrogen-fuel cell technology. Aircraft designers are using lightweight materials and more efficient engines to cut down on fuel consumption. Now we're seeing that a German company is looking to the past to conserve energy with today's cargo ships.

SkySails GmbH & Co. KG has undertaken four years of trial runs with its 160 square-meter "SkySail." The SkySail is attached to a mast at the front of the ship and is said to reduce fuel costs by 15 to 20% by using wind power.

"I got the idea on a sail boat a few years ago. I love flying kites and found sailing rather slow. I thought the enormous power in kites could somehow be utilized," said Stephan Wrage, inventor and founder of SkySails.

Beluga Shipping is a believer in the technology and is currently having its "MV Beluga SkySails" vessel outfitted with a sail and a computer-controlled central steerage unit. The ship will make its maiden voyage early next year. Beluga Shipping CEO Neils Stolberg estimates the SkySail will drop his company's $7,500 daily fuel bill to $6,000.

"You've got to look at new ideas to cope with developments in oil prices," said Stolberg. "When energy prices double in such a short time, you've got to innovate. We won't be able to switch the engines off. But we're confident we can reduce fuel usage -- and cut emissions."





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