I was interested to read about a new sail- and electric-powered wooden cargo vessel, the Ceiba, currently under construction in Costa Rica.
Here's a CGI rendering of how she'll look when she's complete.
Ceiba is tiny by commercial standards, carrying only 250 tons of cargo, but is designed to be ecologically friendly, creating no carbon pollution at all. (You can read and see more details of her design here.)
The ship's backers are certainly enthusiastic, and appear to be "true believers" in their ecological vision, but whether or not it's a practical idea has yet to be seen. The BBC reports:
Ceiba is the first vessel built by Sail Cargo, a company trying to prove that zero-carbon shipping is possible, and commercially viable. Made largely of timber, Ceiba combines both very old and very new technology: sailing masts stand alongside solar panels, a uniquely designed electric engine and batteries. Once on the water, she will be capable of crossing oceans entirely without the use of fossil fuels.
“The thing that sets Ceiba apart is the fact that she'll have one of the largest marine electric engines of her kind in the world,” Danielle Doggett, managing director and cofounder of Sail Cargo, tells me as we shelter from the hot sun below her treehouse office at the shipyard. The system also has the means to capture energy from underwater propellers as well as solar power, so electricity will be available for the engine when needed. “Really, the only restrictions on how long she can stay at sea is water and food on board for the crew.”
. . .
Ceiba is small for a cargo ship – tiny in fact. She will carry around nine standard shipping containers. The largest conventional container ships today carry more than 20,000 containers.
She is also relatively slow. Large container ships typically travel at between 16 and 22 knots (18-25 mph/30-41 kph), according to Gilliam. Ceiba is expected to be able to reach 16 knots at her fastest, says Doggett, and easily attain 12 knots, although the team has conservatively estimated an average of 4 knots for trips until they can test her on the water. She will likely be significantly faster than existing smaller sail cargo ships that don’t have the added benefit of an electric engine.
But Doggett is emphatic that the company is not trying to directly compete with mainstream container ships. “In many ways it’s a completely different service offering,” she says. “But at the same time, we’re trying to prove the value of what we're doing, so that we can inspire those other large for-profit companies to pick up their game.”
And while Ceiba is small compared to most container ships, she is still around 10 times larger than the most established fossil-free sailing cargo vessel currently in service, the Tres Hombres. Sail Cargo hopes this means she can help bridge the gap between these smaller ships and even larger emissions-free ships in the future. Sail Cargo is already planning a second similar vessel, and is also in the initial stages of plans to build a much larger, more modern design. “In five years, we would hopefully be laying the keel of a very large, commercially viable competitive vessel,” says Doggett.
There's more at the link.
Here's the latest video from the project, discussing the design and manufacture of her deck beams. Carpenters, and those interested in exotic hardwoods, will find it fascinating - they're using woods of which I'd never heard, and employing some unique home-grown methods to do so. (How about a large home-made circular saw on a mobile chassis, driven by a 12-horsepower four-stroke engine?)
You'll find this and more videos at Sail Cargo's YouTube channel.
As I said earlier, it's clearly a labor of love. Whether or not it can be commercially viable outside narrow ecological interest groups is another matter, but I wish its supporters well. It's fascinating to see ancient and time-honored technologies being brought into the 21st century.