First, they looked at cars to reduce fuel usage. Then they looked at airplanes. Next thing you know, they’ve taken to the sea to make some overconsumption cuts! The Wind Challenger Project from the University of Tokyo has returned to the basics in an effort to bring down the amount of fuel large merchant vessels usually gulp.
Their solution includes giant retractable sails at about $2.5 million each, 20m wide by 50m high, that take into account the daily wind force for as much as 30% fuel savings.
According to people involved in the project, the navigation technology we enjoy today allows us to build up big sails and guide them automatically through networked maritime information. The reason ancient sailors trusted weather forecasting was because they could, so scientists took up their example.
However, they don’t just rely on wind blindly – they combine ancient knowledge with complex modern technology: each sail is built out on an aluminum and fiber-reinforced plastic instead of canvas and has a curved, hollowed shape controlled individually to take as much advantage as possible of the propulsive force of the wind. Difficult weather conditions or an anchored ship make for a contracted sail thanks to the five-part telescope.
The Japanese team underwent computer and real simulations (on the Yokohama-Seattle route), as well as wind-tunnel tests – they all confirmed that the method works best at a crosswind. Instead of just taking the shortest route, the method analyzes the weather, wind strength and direction for a faster, less-fuel-consuming voyage. If the prototypes prove practical, we should expect the first journey of this kind in 2016. Voyage, voyage!…