This freighter works in the wind
Imagine that the cup of coffee in your hand was transported from Colombia not on a giant, polluting container ship, but by a sturdy sailboat using only wind power.
This is the vision of TransOceanic Wind Transport (TOWT), a small freight company based in France that is now growing to transport tens of thousands of tonnes per year.
Founded in 2011, TOWT has already transported over 1,000 tonnes of cargo across the ocean using small sailboats. Today, the company is building four larger sailing ships, which will travel on four shipping routes between Europe and destinations such as New York, Guadeloupe, Brazil and Ivory Coast. The maiden voyage of the first ship is scheduled for late 2022.
“The wind is abundant, it is powerful, it is now predictable,” says Guillaume Le Grand, co-founder and CEO of TOWT. “And sailing is the best way to operate it and move heavy loads long distances.”
Each ship will be able to carry 1,100 tonnes of freight, Le Grand says, approximately ten times the capacity of the largest sailing freighters currently in service. They will have sails of 700 square meters, with diesel engines only for occasional use when needed. TOWT says they will reduce emissions by 90 percent compared to conventional freighters.
Every year, the conventional shipping industry releases some 600-700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, about as much as in Germany and about 2-3% of global CO2 emissions. But the sector is difficult to decarbonize. Electric motors are not powerful enough to ferry ships across oceans, while alternative green fuels such as hydrogen or biofuels are not yet produced remotely on the scale needed. “We have the only real, effective solution,” says Le Grand. “The only energy at sea is the wind.
The company already has orders worth more than 100 million euros from around 30 companies who want to transport everything from cocoa and coffee to wine and champagne – and are ready. to pay that little extra to be able to inform their customers that the products arrived via a low carbon ship. “We always let the public know with a little tag and number how the goods were transferred,” says Diana Mesa, co-founder of TOWT.
Each ship can also accommodate 12 passengers who will travel alongside the seven crew members and provide another source of income for the company. “This is good, because we know that each passenger will be an ambassador for what we do after their crossing,” explains Guillaume. A roaster even wants to put a Willy Wonka gold ticket for a trip in one of his coffee bags. “Everyone will know that if you buy this coffee you might one day end up with a ticket to cross the ocean and go back to Colombia where the coffee comes from. “
TOWT is not the only company to build larger sailing freighters than those currently on the water. Costa Rica-based SailCargo is about to complete its first wooden sailboat which will transport some 250 tonnes of cargo between North America and South America next year using only wind power and a electric motor.
Wind power is expected to play an important role in decarbonizing shipping, says Aoife O’Leary, director of international shipping at the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “For every nautical mile you can go with the wind, you save on ridiculously expensive alternative fuel. “
However, 100% sailboats could play a bigger role, she says, with more widespread changes in the use of wind technologies seen on conventional cargo ships. “There are more and more wind technologies coming out all the time for different types of ships,” she says. “It seems like a very, very obvious propulsion technique.”