A giant sail to tow an Airbus ship and reduce its carbon footprint

Reduce transport fuel consumption and therefore CO2 emissions by 20%. This is the objective of Airbus in transporting sections of aircraft under sail to the assembly plant. The European aircraft manufacturer has equipped one of the ships providing the link to the United States with a huge tractor wing. Attached to the bow of the freighter at the end of a 35-metre mast, the “kite”, a giant sail of 500 m2, provides traction for the ro-ro ship “Ville de Bordeaux”, which transports between Saint-Nazaire and the port of Mobile (Alabama) the components of the A320 intended to be assembled in the American factory of the European aircraft manufacturer.

“We seek the wind 300 meters high, where it is 50% faster. The wing flies transversely performing figure-eight trajectories of up to 150-200 km/h, which provides ten times the power compared to a conventional sail,” explains Vincent Bernatets, President of Airseas, company created by Airbus alumni and which designed the “Seawing”. “After 10 months of sea trials, we are convinced that the concept is good,” says Mathieu Reguerre, project manager, in a video posted online on Monday.

Reduce its emissions by two-thirds

The kite, which can be deployed automatically in twenty minutes, can be used between 10 and 40 knots of wind (18.5 to 74 km/h), “beyond the speeds supported by wind turbines” and “allows, on an annual average, 20% fuel savings, according to Airseas. The size of the sail depends on that of the boat, Airseas has already supplied a 1,000 m2 sail to the Japanese company KLine to equip a bulk carrier.

For Airbus, the Airseas kite should allow the company to reduce its operational emissions by two thirds by 2030, compared to 2015, according to Nicolas Chrétien, director of “Sustainability” (sustainable development) of the aircraft manufacturer. These emissions represented “just over a million tonnes” of C02 in 2015 and currently stand at 800,000 tonnes. This does not include the much larger indirect emissions associated with the use of Airbus-produced aircraft by customer airlines.

Of operational emissions, 60% come from emissions related to energy expenditure necessary for industrial production, the remaining 40% being the “mobile part”, he explains. A third of this “mobile part” comes from the transport of aircraft sections between the group’s various sites on board one of the three ships chartered by Airbus, including the “Ville de Bordeaux”.

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