Friday, December 29, 2006

Using Eco-Friendly Wind to Pull Cargo

I try to recycle just about everything that I discard. Even here in Vienna, where they have a very progressive recycling problem, I use it to the maximum recycling everything from pizza boxes to the plastic caps on my toothpaste. Which is why I was intrigued when I recently saw a Discovery channel documentary on how wind was used to move the giant bricks that built the pyramids of ancient Egypt. I wouldn't have believed it if you told me, but using a simple demonstration the scientists attached a massive kite to a two-ton block and it actually moved several feet. So what does this have to do with supply chains you ask? Well, coincidentally, a company called SkySails has been gaining some press attention about a recent demonstration using kites or paragliders to pull cargo containers to reduce fuel costs. The upfront costs for the equipment aren't cheap, but the savings are significant. According to SkySails the kites can generate 6,800 horsepower and reduce annual fuel costs by between 10 percent and 35 percent under normal conditions with 50 percent under extreme wind. There is another company called CargoLifter using giant hot air balloons to also move cargo all across Europe. This is real brilliance and I hope it becomes more then just an exercise.


Mirko Hörmann said...

Hi Christopher, thanks for the posting. On the website of skysails there are nice videos of the first test.

Also thank you for mentioning CargoLifter. The company went into insolvency in mid 2002. I don´t want to go into details but one reason was for sure that EADS and their former employees sitting on chairs in the government didn´t like the idea that this total in privat hand company would get a state loan worth 300 Mio. Euro. They needed the money for the military A400M and the A380. So the lobby worked.

I am one of the first shareholders of CargoLifter "old", became board member after insolvency and am now CEO of CargoLifter "new" which was founded in June 2005 by shareholders of the old company.

CargoLifter - and now we are back to your topic - has designed and wanted to built the CL160, an airship able to carry loads of 160 metric tons max and or large dimensions. In the last year of operations they designed and tested a balloon with 60 m diameter and 75 mt load. They demonstrated the feasibiltity by moving a 55 mt mine clearance tank. I have the video of that.

CL "new" is starts where "old" had to stop: with balloons. Because the first steps had been too large, we now start with smaller systems. We use ballons as stationary cranes with winches and as a so called Air-Draisine, where the balloon creeps along a rope self propelled.

We patented also a system we call Flight-Transporter, a mixture of balloon and airship, remote controlled. Load is here from 20 to 40 mt.

There are thousands of possibilities for this new dimension of transport. All things for exapmle for which the ship cheap but too slow and can´t reach behind the coasts or things for which the plane is too expansive or are too heavy and bulky.

We found out that for instance flowers could be transported best with such a vehicle. Or even hanged clothes.

The classic task is still the heavy load fright. The turbine that has too get to the construction place anywhere in the world. Or take a part for the refinary industry. Lately they had a job for whoch they had to take a 8000 km way around for a distance of a few hundred km.

Important is that people are willing to walk on new trails. Things like "We do it like we did because we did never another way" should not be part of an innovative thinking. Most inventors went trogh the curves of beeing blamed as stupid. Think of the german scientist who invented the mp3-format. He went from company to compnay here in Germany and nobody saw a market for something like that.

The same thing is with Lighter-Than-Air-Applications. CargoLifter had one of the largest density of competence with employees from all over the world. Now we have a tropical fun place in the hangar and ploiticians are comparing 500 jobs caring for the seats at the artificial beach with 500 engineers that had been employed by CL. Crazy. The Americans are not so stupid. They have their DARPA and an industry that is allowed to be crazy and develop and test new things. So Lockheed is now in front with the P-791 which ha it´s maidenflight in February. I could envy America for that but we will work on our side for a cicil version of LTA-applications. On the other side of the Atlantic military applications are the driver.

Best regards
Mirko Hörmann

P.S.: Although the websites are in German, have a look on them in a couple of months. Perhaps we will have then an translation.

(CargoLifter Shareholder Ass.)

(Old and New CargoLifter)

Christopher Sciacca said...

Thanks for your extensive input Mirko, I came across Cargolifter several years ago. They were, and maybe still are, using an application called CATIA to design the balloons. I was doing marketing at the time for CATIA and spoke with several Cargolifter engineers. I thought then, what I still believe now, this is a great solution to a complex problem.

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Kanishka Majumdar said...

Great article. Think more companies must go the Cargolifter way, esp now when the icerbergs are melting "rapidly" with the massive global warming (max. due to transportation). Do keep sending more like these.