Zéphyr et Borée has the wind in its sails to transform maritime transportation


(c) Zéphyr et Borée

The French start-up aims for a zero-carbon maritime transport of goods with an innovative concept: hybrid sail-and-engine cargo ships. Cast off scheduled in 2022.

While the carbon footprint per tonne-kilometre of maritime transport is relatively low compared to that of road or air transportation, the sector is still accountable for about three percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions — a figure bigger than Germany’s footprint (2.2%). The reason is simple: 90 percent of international trade travels through the oceans. By 2050, the sector’s CO2 emissions could increase by up to 250% according to the International Maritime Organization.


Among the solutions currently available to reduce this monstrous environmental footprint, wind energy comes across as the most promising. And that’s precisely what the young French company Zéphyr et Borée, founded in 2015 by Nils Joyeux, hopes to develop, by combining the wind’s strength with the reliability of conventional engines.


To make the dual propulsion system possible, the start-up has integrated rigid and automated sails, developed by the naval architecture firm VPLP design. The hybrid vessels, designed by the company named after the wind Greek gods Zephyrus and Boreas, are thus able to maintain the predictability and speed of a conventional ship — by relying on diesel when the wind doesn’t blow—, all while reducing fossil fuel consumption and operating costs for each trip.


To ensure that they take full advantage of the wind when it does blow, these cargo ships are equipped with a weather routing tool that allows the crew to better understand the route’s weather conditions in order to optimize fuel savings. As a result, the company says, they generate up to 50 percent less CO2 emissions compared to a conventional ship.


And the Nantes-based shipping company has the wind in its sails. Last year, it joined forces with Jifmar Offshore Services to participate, as a joint venture, in a call for tenders launched by the ArianeGroup. Now that the contract is signed, the shipyard will soon start building “Le Canopée”, a 121-metre long and 23-metre wide hybrid sail-and-engine vessel.


This first hybrid cargo ship will be able to save up to 7,200 tonnes of CO2 per year compared to a conventional commercial ship, according to Zéphyr and Borée. Equipped with four automated and rigid sails covering a total area of 1450 sq. meters, “Le Canopée” will also have hybrid diesel-GNL engines to further reduce pollutant emissions, such as fine particles, compared to conventional entirely diesel-powered cargo ships.


By 2022, the new generation vessel will be ready to sail the Atlantic Ocean to transport parts of the Ariane 6 rocket between Bremen, Rotterdam, Le Havre, Bordeaux and the French Guiana Space Centre. A first that could rock the shipping industry boat and make it more environmentally friendly.



This article has been written as part as a series of stories produced for open_resource by Sparknews, a French social enterprise that aims to foster new narratives that can help accelerate a social and environmental transition to tackle our world’s most pressing issues.


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