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Supply Lines: Hoisting the sails

Supply Lines
Bloomberg

They tried using giant kites but that didn't work. Now Cargill believes it has found a new way to harness wind to cut fuel use and reduce emissions from its cargo ship fleet.

The Minneapolis-based company, the world's biggest agricultural commodities trader, will install massive fixed-wing sails to tanker ships using technology borrowed from the racing team of one of the top sailors on the planet.

The novel plan is aimed at reducing Cargill's carbon dioxide emissions from shipping. It's one of the biggest ship charterers with more than 600 vessels on the water at any one time hauling grain, soybeans, edible oils and ethanol. The industry is under pressure to go green.

With technology first developed for America's Cup racing yachts, Cargill and its partners on the project believe the sails could reduce a vessel's fuel consumption by as much as 30%.

"What we like about wind and what we like about this concept most is you are reducing fuel," says Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill's ocean transportation business in Geneva.

The sails will be collapsible to avoid coming into contact with infrastructure.

It's partnering with a U.K. company called BAR Technologies to design and construct the rotating sail wings that will be fixed to cargo ships. It's a spinoff nautical tech firm from multi Olympic medal and America's Cup winning sailor Ben Ainslie's eponymous racing team.

Still, the concept has yet to be tested on physical scale models or even smaller ships.

It's been designed entirely using computer simulation and modeling similar to that used by racing teams called computational fluid dynamics. America's Cup teams are banned from using physical model testing for ship designs.

"What we are very confident of is that the economics work," said John Cooper, chief executive officer of BAR Technologies and former Formula One motor sports executive with the McLaren Racing team.

It could be a game changer if it works. Shipping accounts for about 90% of global trade and it's also responsible for about 3% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

The industry is facing set targets to reduce carbon emission intensity per ship by 40% by 2030 and overall greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.

Cargill tried rigging spinnaker-like kites to ships in 2011 — but that concept failed.

Andy Hoffman in Geneva 

Charted Territory

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed for the first time in three months in September as exports jumped and import growth slowed, though overall transactions remained well below pre-pandemic levels.

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