A research team from the University of Tokyo is developing a sail system that could cut fuel consumption on cargo ships by as much as 30 percent.
Their solution, part of the Wind Challenger Project, is a set of retractable sails that measure 20 meters wide and stand 50 meters tall. Constructed out of aluminum and plastic rather than traditional materials, the sails have a five-piece telescoping design that allows them to be retracted in bad weather.
The sails come with a price tag of approximately $2.5 million a piece – so outfitting a ship wouldn’t be cheap. But Kiyoshi Uzaza, an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo, believes that ship owners would be able to recoup their costs in just five to 10 years – perhaps sooner if fuel prices continue to climb at their present rate.
The next step is for the researchers to create a half-sized prototype to determine feasibility. Depending on the results, the sail system could be in the wind by 2016.