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Transportation Power

Kite-Powered Ship Launched 211

Posted by kdawson
from the aeolius-called-left-message dept.
The Grand Poobah writes "The big-kite technology we discussed last month has officially launched in Hamburg, Germany. Reuters has a writeup of the new technology, which aims to cut fossil fuel use on sea voyages by an estimated 20% by means of a huge computer-controlled kite. The link includes a video."
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Kite-Powered Ship Launched

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  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:40AM (#21736426)
    sail.
    • by kryten_nl (863119) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:56AM (#21736512)
      Because
      1. it can be used at these cargo ships normal cruise speed,
      2. it saves the shipping company $1600 per day
      3. and it utilizes higher altitude winds,
      I would say they have succeeded.
      • by christus_ae (985401) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:03AM (#21737558)
        You've nailed the reasons this German comapany has invested and utilized this technology. It's not about "fighting climate change" like the pro-green TFA title, it's about saving $1600 a day.
        • by dfenstrate (202098) <dfenstrate@gmail ... minus herbivore> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @10:24AM (#21738930)
          It's not about "fighting climate change" like the pro-green TFA title, it's about saving $1600 a day.

          The lesson for greenies is of course to find cheaper, more environmentally friendly ways to achieve the same output as fossil fuels.

          Raising costs with punitive 'carbon taxes' will earn revulsion and support theories that global warming hysteria is really just a power and money grab.

          Developing environmentally friendly AND cheaper, effective solutions will earn their developers lots of money and save the environment at the same time.

          You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. This kite- it's environmental honey. Develop more things like it.
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward
            To this i can only say:

            http://xkcd.com/357/ [xkcd.com]
          • by Bo'Bob'O (95398)
            Huh? How is this insightful?
            Environmentalists have been pushing for funding for development of clean, affordable technologies for years. Thats the very definition of a huge part of the environmental movement. Now, you clearly disagree with a lot of the ideology of the movement, everyone is entitled to an opinion and that is fine, but you clearly aren't the person who should be telling greenies what sort of "lessons" they should be learning, when, this is just the sort of projects they have been pushing for
    • by IBBoard (1128019)
      I did think about that, but is it not slightly different?

      I don't know much about the conditions at see (so potentially over-qualified to talk about it on /. ;) ) but wouldn't there be stronger winds higher up? Think of a normal kite - you hold it at ground level and you get a bit of a gust, but get it up to flying altitude and it is really pulling.

      So they may have re-invented "the really high sail" by removing the mast and putting it on the end of a rope/tether instead, but not just a normal sail.
    • by IainMH (176964) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:01AM (#21737546)
      I took up kitesurfing in the summer. I can attest to the enormous power a kite can yeild - far more than a sail of the same size. Most people kitesurfing use a kite around 10-12 metres long depending on their size and the wind conditions. When I was learning the ropes (sorry), I used a 3 metre kite on land. I am not a small chap. But that 3 metre kite picked me up as if I was hardly there and threw me around.

      Power kites are quite hard to learn how to control properly. I think the leap in the technology here isn't the wind which, as you point out, has been done before, but the control systems to keep the kite in the air, stable and effective.
  • I predict... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GregPK (991973) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:53AM (#21736480)
    That Sail manufactures will all be getting a piece of this. It takes a lot of money to make a good long lasting sail. Not to mention keeping it in good repair overtime. Ocean air and the Sun aren't exactly friendly to Quality Sailing materials that are used on a daily basis.
    • by Firethorn (177587)
      Getting it up higher might help with the ocean air part a bit. Maybe they have some modern materials that can take the sun better.

      Still, $1.6k saved a day could pay for quite a bit of maintenance.

      How long to sails normally last under heavy usage?
  • by Andreas Schaefer (513034) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:56AM (#21736504) Homepage
    german scientists improve fuel consumption in cars by 60% using tiny horses for initial acceleration.
    film at 11.
  • by mcrbids (148650) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:11AM (#21736564) Journal
    Sometimes, it seems, there are no new ideas. As others have said, what we have here is a glorified sail. Nothing wrong with that, but as fossil fuels become more expensive, we'll find more and more "old tech" make a comeback.

    The biggest deal in alternative energy right now is the windmill, which have been used for what, 1,200 years? [wikipedia.org] Now we have a (gasp!) sailing ship! Pretty soon we'll go back to using the electric car [toyota.com] which was very popular in the early days [about.com] of the automobile.

    No, basic technologies are not new - what's new are refinements. For example, Linux is a re-implementation of a 35 year old Operating System [levenez.com] having the chief innovation of a license change [gnu.org]. I'm not knocking the quality that Linus has put into the Linux kernel, but Linux is written to be POSIX compliant, so while drivers are nice, Linux is basically no different than any other UNIX but for the license difference.

    Innovation can come from some incredibly low-tech, unlikely places. For example, this guy has won numerous awards for sticking a pot inside a pot and filling the middle with wet sand [boingboing.net] - managing to solve a serious problem in Africa for low-cost refrigeration.

    I guess what it comes down to is this: Technology is valuable when it works, not when it's complex. There's lots of very, very, very simple technology that nonetheless works very, very, very well.
    • by evilviper (135110) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:47AM (#21736884) Journal

      Sometimes, it seems, there are no new ideas. As others have said, what we have here is a glorified sail.

      Not really. It might be closer to a windmill than a sail... The idea of using the wind for power might be millions of years old, but new ways that do it several orders of magnitude more efficiently, and in significantly different ways, aren't the same tech by any stretch of the imagination.

      This is a lot closer to a kite or a parachute. The ONLY similarity is has with a sail is that it happens to be powering a boat in this case. Far more differences than similarities, and I don't hear anyone complaining that sailing ships were just rip-offs of kites...

      Eliminating the huge weight, manpower, and most of the wear that was inherent with sails makes this a vastly different product that could well have been a revolution in naval technology (exploration, trade, warfare, etc.) if it was around in the 16th century.

      With wind turbines and electric cars you have a point that they aren't really new inventions, but they certainly have been VASTLY refined. In other words, a rocket that can fly to the moon and back isn't an over-sized bit of fireworks, but it's easy to oversimplify anything until it sounds trivial... Hey, a 3GHz dual-core computer is just a bunch of electric switches, and they had those in the 1800s.

      This 'kite', however, is decidedly new, by any reasonable metric, and I look forward to seeing if it's actually practical for commercial use on a large scale.
      • by joto (134244)

        Not really. It might be closer to a windmill than a sail... The idea of using the wind for power might be millions of years old, but new ways that do it several orders of magnitude more efficiently, and in significantly different ways, aren't the same tech by any stretch of the imagination.

        Several orders of magnitude more efficient? That sounds very unlikely, given that sailing technology is pretty competitive these days, with competitions like Americas cup where investors are practically standing in lin

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by yanboss (729709)
          Advantages of a kite:
          Wind at higher altitude is more consistent and stronger. Part of the reason americas cup boats have such tall high aspect sails

          A kite flies back and forth through the air experiencing an increased wind speed compared to static sail

          The center of effort for the force from the kite can be placed very low on the boat so that heeling moment is minimised. So no need for a deep keel or long heavy fragile mast.

          With the kite retracted the wind propulsion system is hidden away. So reduced winda
          • by joto (134244)

            I didn't object to kites being useful, or even "best" in certain situations. I did object to them being "several orders of magnitude more efficient", as modern sails are already pretty close to the theoretical maximum (and certainly not several orders of magnitude away from it). What you choose depends on a lot of factors, such as how much you want to invest up front, how much you want to pay for maintenance, reliability, practicality, performance, ease of use, legality, contest rules, etc...

            Anyway, if th

      • by chgros (690878)
        that could well have been a revolution in naval technology (exploration, trade, warfare, etc.) if it was around in the 16th century.
        Especially if they had had the computers that this design requires ;)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jovius (974690)

      Sometimes, it seems, there are no new ideas. As others have said, what we have here is a glorified sail. Nothing wrong with that, but as fossil fuels become more expensive, we'll find more and more "old tech" make a comeback.

      The industrial revolution and the age of enlightenment led us to overconsumption. Defoe's Crusoe is an exemplary of a human being getting in control with the nature - everything is possible with ingenuity and sufficient resources. Sadly the western societies especially have since declined to self-worship rather than co-operation, because we generally are weak before our needs and desires. Combined with individual freedoms the nature was lost into artificiality, and many aligned with a mechanical world-vi

      • by Kadin2048 (468275) *
        although the idealized modern view of the historical times tends to forgot the sorrowful and filthy side of the past reality. Maybe we are more mature now, however?

        That's putting it lightly. Until very recently, all but a very small elite in most places lived in squalor and physical discomfort, probably sick (by modern standards) most of the time, either freezing cold or sweating hot, living and dying without venturing much further than you could see today from a moderately-tall building. And based on the
        • by Firethorn (177587)
          It's a rare group that can hold out and make a low-technology lifestyle attractive enough to ensure their own preservation as a community (e.g. the Amish).

          And the Amish mostly do that by making it an all or nothing affair; IE you're raised to believe that family is pretty much all important, all through their life.

          But when you become an adult, you have to make a decision: Either follow the rules about technology and everything else, or be cut off completely from family and the community of your youth.

          Even
    • by thebdj (768618)

      but Linux is written to be POSIX compliant, so while drivers are nice, Linux is basically no different than any other UNIX but for the license difference
      Are you saying POSIX compliance [wikipedia.org] makes an operating system "UNIX"? If so, using that argument, Windows NT is like any other UNIX? Somehow I think people would disagree.
      • by ArsonSmith (13997)
        Well, partially true. NT did implement the small library section of the POSIX standard, but it is not 100% POSIX compliant.

  • by Lalo Martins (2050) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:58AM (#21736720) Homepage
    What, upgrading ships from combustion engines to sail? You kids and your newfangled fancy stuff! Next thing you'll be wanting oars!
    • Lets all hear it for those pioneering kite surfers who risk life and limb day in and day out to prove the concept behind this totally novel idea.

      I predict an increase in the number of yuppies in the crews of ocean going ships.
  • by gzur (631334) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:11AM (#21736770) Journal
    that this sounds like something out of Snow Crash?
    • by Fex303 (557896)
      Well, it beats most news stories these days, which sound they're out of George Orwell's 1984.

      Actually the sooner we get to a Snow Crash-like existence, the better. (Though I'd still prefer the Diamond Age.)

  • For a second there -- just for a second -- I thought there was some hope for humanity. Then I saw what it was carrying in those pictures.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SanguineV (1197225)
      Nothing says hope for humanity like a wind assisted ship carrying windmills [networkworld.com] (presumably for power generation)?
      • by Falladir (1026636)
        Thanks, I was wondering what they were. They looked kind of like weapons to me too, but I thought they were too long and graceful (and probably fragile) to be missiles or torpedos or rockets.
      • by Chris Burke (6130)
        Those aren't the same ship.
  • Great start (Score:5, Informative)

    by Danny3xd (1204844) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @06:23AM (#21737072)
    This is a great start but not the whole answer. The position of the kite allows it to only work with the wind coming from abaft of beam. (from behind)Also creating a "lee-helm", driving her nose down wind. To get the 20% fuel savings (I am guessing closer to 15%, from experience) 50% of the time, a second kite would be needed amidships. The wind would in fact be much stronger at altitude, But with little to block it 100 feet above sea level, I believe a schooner rig would be as productive, more often. "Down-wind" is not the best point of sail. "Close-hauled" is. Where the wind comes from either side of the bow. Creates an airplane wing effect that sucks ship forward. (Positive to negative) With kite alone, the ship would lose a lot of energy trying to stay on course due to rudder angle. Under perfect conditions, this will work great. Just not often. I am retired from the U.S. Merchant Marines and have worked and sailed on many tankers and schooners. I do believe we tossed sail aside to quickly. Amazing, free and renewable energy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by kryten_nl (863119)
      It's a steerable airfoil kite (like in kite-surfing) the power is generated by making figures of eight, roughly in the point you want to be pulled to. They've developed a nice automated pilot for controlling the kite. In this way the kite can deliver power in any direction that has a down-wind component. (You are right in stating that it is not as effective in all directions.)
    • by shilly (142940)
      Are you sure that the principles that applying to sails apply to kites of this type? They appear to be quite different tech.
    • by mzs (595629)
      With a sailboat the lee helm is cased by one side of the boat being slightly under the other. This happens because the sail on the mast acts as a long lever. This will not happen in this kite system. In fact it may help to pull the bow up.
  • Keel? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by melonman (608440) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:05AM (#21737274) Journal
    Why don't you need one? In the photo on the last /. article the kite isn't dead ahead of the ship, and you'd expect that to be the case most of the time. If that tends to pull the ship off course, don't you end up using the rudder like a rather poor keel, effectively dragging the ship through the sea sideways, and thus wasting a load of energy, not to mention the stress on various parts of the ship?
  • by aapold (753705) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:38AM (#21737406) Homepage Journal
    I think this technology has obvious military applications.

    When fighting enemy warships, a kite ship can get close enough to fire a shot, then the kite kicks in and they move away, out of range of the pursuing enemy ship, all the while firing shots at them. Using this tactic they could easily draw an enemy warship far from their lines and away from possible assistance to an area of the sea where additional friendly warships can be brought to bear upon it.
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @08:16AM (#21737654)
    Can't use it in a storm.
    Can't use it when heading into the wind - can't tack with a kite.
    Can't use it when theres no wind.

    Also in the video it seemed to be moving around a lot on its mounting pole when furled up even in the slight breeze. How you'd unfurl it in a strong wind without damage to it or its cables I shudder to think.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by slim (1652)

      can't tack with a kite.
      Try telling that to the kitesurfers who come ashore upwind from where they started.
      • by gomoX (618462)
        Not going to happen with a cargo ship. There is no keel equivalent in it, just a big fat hull.
  • I assume the 20% savings ($1,600/day) is when the wind is blowing good, and in the right direction.

    Just on general principles, that's going to happen about 1/3 the time times maybe 1/2 the time. So actual savings are going to be around 3% ($266/day) That's about $78,000 per year. Barely enough to pay for one employee to manage the kite. Nothing left over to pay the interest ($60,000), or pay off the principal (another $75K over 10 years).

    • by CmdrGravy (645153) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @10:28AM (#21738976) Homepage
      Gosh yes, this does appear to be a fatal flaw in their plan. Here's what I suggest you do. First of all you need to send the beermat or envelope with your calculations and these general principles of wind dynamics off to the company and include a written warning in the strongest possible terms outlining why their years of planning, development, testing and implementation have been in vain. Doubtless initally they may horrorstruck with your revelations but eventually you'll almost certainly be called in for some well paid and top level consultancy where you can use your years of expertise to get this failing project back on the rails. Why, I imagine you could do this in your spare time without even breaking a sweat. You're so wonderful.
    • by Firethorn (177587)
      That's odd, elsewhere I figured it'd be useful only 100 days out of a year(less than a third) and got $160k savings in a year.

      Any particular reason you divided by 6 rather than 2 or 3 for your figure?
      • If the ship travels as is mentioned, it's traveling in a triangle. I'm assuming the winds don't follow the ship's path, so it's only likely to have the wind blowing in roughly the right direction about 1/3 of the time. So that's a factor of 3.

        Then winds do not always blow at top speed. In fact, to be useful at all with this kite/sail, the wind has to average considerably faster than the forward speed of the ship!

        I'm being somewhat generous in estimating that only HALF of the time can you expect th

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by BeanThere (28381)
          You do realise that some routes have pretty reliable prevailing wind patterns, and that these have even been used historically for shipping channels back in the day when sails were the main form of powering ships? Google for example 'roaring forties' and 'clipper route'. There are others.
    • by Retric (704075)
      RTFA: 20% is average savings not peak. (which is 50%).

      PS: Math is useless when your information is wrong.
    • by BeanThere (28381)

      I assume the 20% savings ($1,600/day) is when the wind is blowing good, and in the right direction

      That's an amazingly wild assumption. After watching the video, I have the definite impression that that $1600/day estimate has arleady taken this into account and is estimated based on the typical average prevailing winds on their routes.

  • our return to the age of sail. Even if it is a little higher tech then first time around.
  • They should add a blimp to that, to keep the sail aloft on bad days.

    Germany never was a great sailing nation. So if the Dutch, Spanish, English or French dont want to bite, then there must be a problem with the technology.
  • The problem with sails is labour. If they have to add crew to handle the sails, then they dont save anything. A 15m mast with a kite is not much different from flying a spinaker and simpler sail systems can be furled automatically, so there is room for improvement and automation.
  • Am I missing here? What kind of advantage does a kite provide over sails which I'd say are a proven technology. To me it seems that 500 year old technology [wikipedia.org] is superior to what this company has developed.

    I can think of a few distinct advantages over the kite. First, the sails are attached to the ship. There isn't this thing blowing around in the sky which might change direction unpredictably when the winds change. Or worse, make a dive for the ocean. Second, the kite is completely useless in headwinds. One

    • by trongey (21550)

      Am I missing here? What kind of advantage does a kite provide over sails which I'd say are a proven technology. To me it seems that 500 year old technology [wikipedia.org] is superior to what this company has developed.

      I can think of a few distinct advantages over the kite. First, the sails are attached to the ship. There isn't this thing blowing around in the sky which might change direction unpredictably when the winds change. Or worse, make a dive for the ocean. Second, the kite is completely useless in

      • by Chris Burke (6130)
        There's no reason why the kite can't reach and tack just like a normal sail. It's working on the same principles. In fact the kite, which is really more of a parasail, could conceivably do the zig-zagging while the ship maintains a steady course.

        Zig-zagging the sail wouldn't change the fact that the force from the wind would be pointed in the opposite direction the ship wants to go.

        The ship has to be the thing that zig-zags, because the way tacking works is the keel of the ship prevents sideways motion, and
  • The US and Russian navy have been running nuclear ships for decades. The last incident in the US was in the 60's. All in all, we have a number of well developed nuclear power plants. While I do not know the Russian situation, I assume that they have some very stable and safe designs. Now is the time to re-start up the program with nuclear freighters. In particular, for ships in the Atlantic would be very useful (the Pacific would be better served with a bridge going between Alaska and Russia). The kite can
    • by geekoid (135745)
      I agree with you, but... ... I think we need to remember the level and expense of care of these power source.

      If these ships engines were constantly monitor by a government team of experts, on the ship. Then I would like to see more of a push towards nuclear freighters.

      I don't think the costs would pan out at this time.

      • First, it would not require a gov. team, but even if so, it would be a small team and no doubt be far cheaper than the current situation with increasing diesel costs. In fact, according to the US navy, it is cheaper to run the nukes than diseal. A big part of that is because the reactors are pretty standardized. They really are nuclear batteries.
  • Sort of funny seeing them going through all that trouble to wrestle a little $300,000 parachute "kite" to pull a huge ship. Couldn't they just enlist a bunch of Chinese to row the thing and save $300,000?

"Never ascribe to malice that which is caused by greed and ignorance." -- Cal Keegan

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