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Start-up CargoKite is developing autonomous container ships that are pulled by kite sails.
How the CargoKite ships will look one day. © CargoKite

The idea and the start-up company wishing to make it a reality are the products of a master’s thesis at the Technical University of Munich. Underlying them is the recognition that container ships are not particularly environmentally friendly. To make shipping more sustainable, CargoKite is developing kite-based sails to drive autonomous freighters. The benefit is that the cargo ships run solely on wind and not on heavy fuel oil, which can pollute entire ocean regions if a ship is damaged. The principle works like this: there are almost no lulls in the air at 100 to 300 metres above the sea, so the kite sails should always catch enough wind to bring the ships to their destination. An additional electric engine is installed on board for entering ports. Another benefit to the concept is that operational expenses are estimated to be 75% lower than conventional freighters. The sail should be capable of pulling up to 16 standard freight containers. The company says that any more would be unrealistic.

To keep costs low, CargoKite is sourcing the kite from existing suppliers rather than developing it in-house. For this reason, the actual centrepiece of the CargoKite ships is the design of the hull. The company says that the specially developed construction is what makes the kite-pulled operation possible, with the kite having a more efficient effect through its interaction with the CargoKite hull. The first prototype, controlled manually, is set to begin testing soon at a lake near Garching-Munich, where the start-up’s office is. A test on the open sea will follow after. The company’s founders have financed the venture without investor funding so far. Their win of the European Student Challenge contributed EUR 10,000 to the company’s coffers and brought an expert on board as a mentor. A funding round is planned for the end of the year.

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