Rolls Royce to use hybrid sailboats to cut shipping costs

Rolls Royce to use hybrid sailboats to cut shipping costs

The hybrid car might be the latest thing in road transport, but hybrid ships, combining sail and steam, were plying the oceans in the 19th century and they're set for a comeback.

Rolls Royce, better known for luxury cars and its aero engines, is developing a ship that uses sails to help offset soaring fuel costs.

It is helping to develop a ship featuring a 180-foot sail, backed up by bio-methane engines, which can carry 4,500 tons.

"We're at the dawn of a transition," Oskar Levander, vice president for innovation at Rolls's marine unit, tells Bloomberg. He predicts a switch from high-polluting bunker fuels to alternatives such as dimethyl ether and liquid natural gas, as well as "high-tech wind."

Rolls Royce is working with B9 Shipping, a Northern Ireland-based firm, on the hybrid, which will be 330 feet long and primarily powered by a Dyna-rig automated sail system.

The company says all of the technologies used are already proven and readily available, gizmag reports. The Dyna-rig sail system originally was conceived in the 1960s by German hydraulics engineer Wilhelm Prolls and was first used by Italian shipbuilder Perini Navi in its 289-foot clipper, The Maltese Falcon, which made its maiden voyage in 2006.  

A Dyna-rig system

The free-standing and free-rotating system has no rigging and comprises numerous relatively small sails that are operated electronically from the bridge. This allows them to be trimmed quickly to maximize wind power and turned out of the wind in the event of sudden squalls.

Rolls Royce will provide a back-up power plant based on its Bergen model, which can burn methane produced from municipal waste by another unit of B9 Energy Group. The sail and engine also could be used together for optimal efficiency.

While the hybrid design increases capital costs, B9 says it will pay back in three to five years of a three-decade lifespan.

This article originally appeared at Sustainable Business News.

Rolls Royce image by Steve Mann /