French startup Airseas has successfully tested a massive kite that can help pull cargo ships over the sea in the Atlantic Ocean, marking a significant advancement for the shipping industry.

The 'Seawing', a 2,700-sq-ft parafoil kite, was first tested last month on the Ville de Bordeaux, a 21,528 gross tons cargo ship, according to a shipping news website.  

"We are proud to have a solution that can help ships reduce their emissions right now, and accelerate the decarbonisation of the maritime sector over the coming years," Vincent Bernatets, CEO of Airseas, said in a statement. 

The company has already landed some big shippers and installed some of the Seawing propulsion systems to bulk carrier ships. 

"We are pleased to confirm that we have now completed the first installation of a Seawing system for our customer 'K' line (Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, Ltd), Airseas announced recently in a Linkedin post.

"The system was installed on a Capesize bulk carrier in December. This is the first of five K Line vessels to feature a Seawing, with an option for up to 51 further vessels in total."

A 210,000 dwt bulk carrier that will be powered by LNG and be built at Nihon Shipyard will be the second ship to have a Seawing. The installation will happen once the ship is delivered in 2024.

The Seawing integrated solution incorporates kite technology with an automated flight control system created by the aerospace industry to capture wind power.

The system is "safe, clean, reliable, and compact", and it can be easily implemented on virtually any commercial ship to reduce emissions and fuel consumption by an average of 20%, claims the company. 

There are three components to Seawing hardware:

  1. The EcoRouting system and Seawing are both controlled and monitored by the bridge equipment.
  2. The parafoil wing's autonomous takeoff and landing are made possible by the deck equipment. There includes a mast, a storage area, trolleys, and winches. The trolley system extracts the wing from storage, and it is then inflated for takeoff at the top of the mast.
  3. The parafoil wing, a flight control pod, and an umbilical cable are all parts of the flying apparatus that manage the wing's autonomous and ideal flight. The umbilical cord that connects the wing to the pod and the pod to the ship manages traction, transmits data, and powers the pod. In order to maximise system power and maintain safety, the pod guides the wing while it is in flight.

Seawing technology is bolt-mounted and takes little deck space, making it simple to refit during a brief port visit. It can be put on almost all ship types, is not constrained by height limits, and does not obstruct cargo operations, reads the company website

A static kite or sail has only one-tenth the traction power of a Seawing, which flies dynamically at more than 100 km/h on a figure-on-eight trajectory. The kite flies 200 metres in the air to capture steadier, stronger winds. 

Decarbonising shipping industry 

Similar to the aviation sector's 3.5% contribution to global greenhouse gas pollution, the shipping sector produces 3% of it.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, cargo ships moved more than 12 billion tons of cargo in 2018 – almost three times as much as they did in the prior 10 years. 

The trend is anticipated to continue as e-commerce fuels a rise in the demand for sea freight.

The Seawing kite has the potential to greatly lessen the burden on the engines of cargo ships and their dependence on unclean diesel fuel. 

The International Maritime Organization set a goal for the industry to reduce emissions by half by 2050, and Seawing represents a substantial step in that direction.

However, the concept is not new, 21 major ships already utilise kites or other innovations, like wings, to help propel them at sea, demonstrating the long history of wind power in the shipping sector. 

By the end of 2023, 50 ships will reportedly be powered by wind, according to the International Windship Association.