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Clean energy hybrid ships

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Technology

Solar Sailor ship

A Solar Sailor vessel.

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The shipping industry is looking to technology from the past - the humble sail - to significantly cut fuel costs and emissions.

Early trials have shown that ships harnessing clean, free energy, such as wind power, can make reductions in their fuel use of between 20 and 40 per cent. This could mean great news for the environment, as the modern shipping industry currently accounts for 4.5 per cent of global CO2 emissions - half a per cent more than all of the world's refineries.

By 2020, this figure is expected to rise to 6 per cent.

Last year German business Beluga Group was the first company to equip a modern diesel freighter with sail power, with the maiden trans-Atlantic voyage of MS Beluga Sky Sail completed early in the year.

A giant, 160 square metre kite, controlled by computer, was flown for between five minutes and eight hours of each day during the two-month voyage, reducing the ship's fuel use and emissions by approximately 20 per cent, and saving about $1,000 a day.

The kite will soon be replaced by one that is double the size, while two larger carriers will be equipped with sails of up to 600 square metres.

The interest in renewables on the high seas is the result of increased environmental concerns in the industry, as well as the rising price of diesel.

"Wind is always cheaper than oil," said Stephan Wrage from SkySails, which installed the Beluga ship's sail.

"The resource costs...raw material costs [and] fuel prices have developed so dramatically; we can really make significant savings."

Sydney-based Solar Sailor is another company looking to the days of yore for inspiration, albeit with a high-tech edge.

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