Cruise Ships Are Big Polluters, but This High-Tech Design Could Change That

The ‘Vinskip’ harnesses the wind to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent.

(Photo: Courtesy

Jan 8, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

It’s not exactly a return to the sailboats of yesteryear, but a new wind-powered design for cargo ships and cruise liners could mean big reductions in carbon pollution.

More than 90 percent of all traded goods are moved across the world’s oceans, and the vessels carrying the cargo make quite an environmental mess while they do it.

Floating freighters account for about 3 percent of the world’s human-made greenhouse gases—or about a billion tons a year. That’s higher than most individual countries.

Those figures, along with the International Maritime Organization’s 2011 mandate requiring newly built ships to vastly improve efficiency, inspired Norwegian designer Terje Lade to take matters into his own hands.

The result is the “Vinskip,” a vessel design so radical that it harks back to one of the maritime industry’s first forms of propulsion: wind. With its aerodynamic hull, the tall, slender ship mimics the shape of a sail and uses the wind generated from the ship moving forward to push it along its course.

(Photo: Courtesy

“At angles close to headwind, the wind generates a force in the ship’s direction, and the ship is pulled forward,” Lade said. “Since the hull is shaped like a symmetrical airfoil, the wind on the opposite side—leeward—has to travel a longer distance. This causes a vacuum that pulls the ship forward.”

Lade estimates that, coupled with liquid natural gas–powered engines, the hybrid system could cut carbon emissions by 80 percent and fuel consumption by 60 percent compared with a similar-size vessel.

Lade expects the vessel to be capable of carrying around 7,000 cars—average capacity for a cargo ship today. Because the ship is sipping fuel while harnessing wind power, it should be capable of voyages as long as 70 days.

“To ship owners, the bunkers [fueling] expenses will be reduced dramatically, and it can meet all existing and upcoming requirements of tomorrow,” Lade said in an email.

Right now it’s just a ship in concept, but Lade hopes to have the first vessel setting sail by 2019. He estimates its cost at around $50 million and says it could work as both a freighter for carrying cargo and as a cruise ship.

For the ship to be built, Lade has to get a vessel-building company on board. He’s working with Norway-based Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA, whose 146 ships represent a quarter of the world’s global carrying capacity.

“They’ve joined the project on a technical base, as a demanding ‘sparring partner’ and a potential user of the concept,” Lade said.