Michelin's AI-Enabled Inflatable Sails Cut Cargo Ship Fuel Consumption

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Michelin's AI-Enabled Inflatable Sails Cut Cargo Ship Fuel Consumption

The Michelin Group announced an endeavor for sustainable mobility this week, revolving not around inflatable tires, but rather inflatable sails. If you squint just enough as they're deflating, you might think you're seeing the Michelin Man on the horizon.

The Wing Sail Mobility (WISAMO) project, which aims to mitigate part of the cargo shipping industry's carbon emissions, deploys inflatable wing-like sails when wind conditions are optimal to increase the efficiency of cargo ships, a press statement from the group explained.

Announced alongside a new tire made with 46 percent sustainable content, the new WISAMO project was developed as part of a collaboration between Michelin R&D and two Swiss inventors.

Michelin's AI-Enabled Inflatable Sails Cut Cargo Ship Fuel ConsumptionThe sails took design cues from airplane wings. Source: The Michelin Group

The wing sail system, which somewhat resembles that of the wind-powered 'Oceanbird', a car carrier concept by a Swedish consortium, Wallenius Marine. In the WISAMO project's case, however, sails don't fully replace the ship's engines.

Instead, the automated sail system inflates when conditions are right for sailing, and deflates as soon as the engine has to go back to full capacity.

Michelin's WISAMO project aims to decrease fuel consumption by up to 20 percent

The sails inflate thanks to an air compressor and a telescopic mast that rises as the sails fill with air. The sails can easily retract to allow the ship to pass under a bridge, for example, and the automated system also adjusts the sails accordingly to the wind, meaning a sailing crew is not required.

The Michelin Group claimed in its press release that the WISAMO sail system has the capacity to decrease a cargo ship's fuel consumption by 10 to 20 percent. The famous tire firm also said its inflatable sails' range of use, makes them more efficient than traditional sails, especially when going upwind.

Michelin's AI-Enabled Inflatable Sails Cut Cargo Ship Fuel ConsumptionThe WISAMO sails can retract easily to allow a ship to go under a bridge. Source: The Michelin Group

"Especially suitable for ro-ro ships, bulk carriers, and oil and gas tankers, [the sail system] can be fitted as original equipment on newbuilds or retrofitted on in-service vessels," Michelin explained in its statement. 

The Michelin Group said the sail system will first be fitted on a merchant ship in 2022 as part of a trial, after which it expects to go into full production.

The firm's new project forms part of a wider initiative aimed at curbing the shipping industry's carbon emissions — according to an IMO study, the sector is responsible for 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually and approximately 2.5 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

Watch the video below to see an overview of the WISAMO project, including how the design of the sails was inspired by aircraft engineering, and a detailed depiction of the sail extension and retraction process.

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