Yet Another Technically Moronic Green Idea Belly Flops

Another green company hocking yet another brilliant Co2-emissions reduction scheme is now laying off workers. Scant interest in its planet-saving product. Hat-tip Bernd Felsche.

SkySails kite-towing technology fails to deliver. (Photo: SkySails)

The German FAZ reports here that Hamburg-based SkySails will lay off half of its workers. Managing director Stephan Wrage, an industrial engineer, blames reluctance by shipping companies to invest in his “innovative technology”. The FAZ also adds:

 There’s no support from the banks. He expects the difficult situation to continue for another 1 to 2 years.”

I can’t understand the lack of interest. Maybe it has something to do with high costs and low benefits? Damn customers – always expecting performance for their money.

What the company has to do now is ask the government to pass a law requiring ships be outfitted with towing kites. You see, the shipping companies are too stupid to recognize the benefits of this “innovative technology”. They need the government to decide it for them. After all, according to the company’s website, “40 employees representing a wide range of disciplines and specialties – from aerospace engineers, to software developers, shipbuilders, management professionals and CNC operators – all help to develop, manufacture and market the worldwide patented SkySails technology.” They can’t be all wrong, can they?

The company, established in 2001, also boasts:

SkySails kites are the key technology for capturing the vast potential of high-altitude winds, and SkySails is the first company in the world that has succeeded in developing towing-kite technology into an industrial application. […] Some 50 million euros have been invested in developing the SkySails technology and establishing the manufacturing capability.

50 million euros! And high altitude? Since when do ships fly? And they claim they have succeeded?

SkySails won many awards

There are also promotional videos for the award-winning company’s products at its website. One shows how the huge kite is deployed (to high altitudes). It requires that the ship be outfitted with a giant crane for hoisting the large kite into the air before releasing it. The crane itself has got to cost a fortune.

I majored in mechanical engineering, and only a couple hours of simple calculations would tell anyone that this technology makes no sense. I’m beginning to wonder what German engineering students are being taught at their universities.

The FAZ also writes:

The shipping companies are hesitant to invest a million euros for a towing kite. So far SkySails has sold about 10 towing kites, but not all have been installed.”

A million euros! Ten kites – in 11 years.

My advice to the management is that they speak to an old engineer, the kind that still uses a slide rule and was never brainwashed by green religion, and listen to what he says. If he says ha ha ha – it means the idea won’t work, and start designing a better diesel engine instead.

I’m sure there were a number of politicians who made the obligatory tour of the “innovative” plant, followed by a speech on how this was the “future of energy” – blah blah blah. Fritz Vahrenholt’s and Sebastian Lünings’s book “Die kalte Sonne” did not hit the bookstores a minute too soon.

10 responses to “Yet Another Technically Moronic Green Idea Belly Flops”

  1. DirkH

    Maybe they should scale down their technology a bit:

    The Chinese used sails on some of their freight wheelbarrows.

  2. Bernd Felsche

    I only took up Mechanical Engineering because they offered free body diagrams.


    They obviously haven’t been paying enough attention to the genius of His Wholly Reluctance God/ King Obama…

  4. Ulrich Elkmann

    Dirk: interesting link – if you want to see what forced labor looks like, it’s quite instructive. The trouble with many western essays on the glory of Chinese technological achievements is that, ultimately, they are based on Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilisation in Ancient China, who was, to put it mildly, a partisan source – overplaying every curiosity pictured in an Eastern text an a definite and lasting triumph of Eastern innovation. Even if one could read Chinese, it would be, in most cases, impossible to get access to his sources; other “Western” sources (which includes, in this case, Japanese and Russian ones) are in turn based on Needham; newer Chinese texts tend to their own version of Pavel Chekov’s claim that “Scotch whiskey was invented by an old lady from Leningrad”. And there’s the fact that for most of the 30 or so volumes he wrote or supervised, Needham often seems out of his depth. In vol. 5, on astronomy, he often thinks nothing of identifying chinese stars with 3 or 4 different “western” ones; he also never understood why the “guide stars” used to ascertain the moon’s position on the zodiac (the pivotal point in imperial astrology) lay so far north or south of the ecliptic (to be visible during the full moon, of course).

  5. oeman50

    So I guess the wind is always blowing the way you want to go? Without a rigid connection , it might be difficult to tack…..

    1. Bernd Felsche

      It doesn’t only work as a “kite” but also as an airfoil, allowing transverse winds to produce some forward thrust.

      However, the “lift” of the airfoil doesn’t come at no cost. The perpendicular “drag” needs to be countered. And the attainable lift isn’t necessarily in the direction that coincides with the ship’s nominal course.

      And that’s without considering catenary forces and keeping the sail aloft.

  6. TheJollyGreenMan

    What a fantastic idea; for Hollywood!

    Imagine the Red Baron with Snoopy in hot pursuit dodging the kites to land a Fokker on an aircraft carrier rigged up with these innovative units.

    In the real world, unfortunately, a very, very stupid idea.

    1. TheJollyGreenMan

      Forgot to mention, what a fantastic saleman the company had, I am in awe.

      I’ve got a bridge in London that I want to sell, this guy seems to be the man for the job!

  7. Global Warming Hoax Weekly Round-Up, Feb.16th 2012 « The Daily Bayonet

    […] noes, a German business that wanted to attach large sails to boats to save the planet, is going out of business. The founder of the firm has vowed to return with a […]

  8. Paul

    This response is only about math, engineering and economics. Regarding “I majored in mechanical engineering, and only a couple hours of simple calculations would tell anyone that this technology makes no sense.” your calculations are either inaccurate because they were too simple or made based upon one or more inaccurate assumptions.

    See 1980 paper on Crosswind Kite Power.

    Sailing ships preceded those propelled with fossil fuel burning engines. Fact: Sail boats are even more able today that they were then to travel faster than the available wind velocity.

    Fact: in general wind velocity increases with increasing altitude above the surface and also becomes less turbulent and more persistent. Many studies that measure wind speeds at increasing altitudes above a surface have shown this. The power available in the wind is directly related to the cube of its velocity.

    Currently, the shipping industry is in the doldrums along with the world economy. When the economics related to fuel cost (supply, demand and speculation) pan out again, this technology will be purchased, not because it might be considered to be “green” or about “climate” by some, but because it could improve the shipping companies’ bottom line. Whether or not this happens in time for SkySails – who knows? When the economics are right, some entity will be in this business.

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