Michelin’s inflatable sails help cut cargo ship fuel usage and emissions

Michelin, a French multinational tire manufacturing company, has transformed ambition into action by presenting two innovations that address some of the major challenges impacting the future of mobility. Revealing a sustainability project aimed at the high seas, the company presented WISAMO, a wind-powered Wing Sail Mobility project designed in part as a contribution to their long-term goal of cutting global maritime transport emissions by more than half by 2050.

Michelin’s WISAMO project aims to increase efficiency among cargo ships using an inflatable sail. The wing sail system isn’t meant to replace ship engines but augment them with a clean, free, readily available power source. 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.

The inflatable wing sail harnesses the wind, a free, universal, and inexhaustible source of propulsion. Its revolutionary design enables a ship to reduce its fuel consumption and thereby have a positive impact on the environment by lowering CO2 emissions. The system is installable on most merchant ships and pleasure craft.

At the push of a button, the sail inflates into full, puffy airplane wing-like glory with help from an air compressor and a rising telescopic mast. The mast is retractable, making it easy for a ship to enter harbors and pass under bridges. In all, the WISAMO sail system has the capacity to decrease a cargo ship’s fuel consumption by 10 to 20%.

The optimal positioning of the sail in the wind is also carried out automatically, which means that no additional personnel is required to operate the superstructure. According to Michelin, the sails also survive stormy weather, as the inflatable body can absorb the forces that occur.

A collaboration with Michel Desjoyaux, a world-renowned skipper and ambassador of the project, enables Michelin’s research teams to perfect its development. His input and technical knowledge of this seasoned sailor will enable it to be tested in actual maritime shipping conditions. As Desjoyeaux points out, “the advantage of wind propulsion is that wind energy is clean, free, universal and totally non-controversial. It offers a very promising avenue to improving the environmental impact of merchant ships.

The WISAMO system will first be fitted on a merchant ship in 2022 when Michelin expects it to go into production following completion of the trial phase.

This year, Michelin announced its commitment to using 100% sustainable materials in all its tires by 2050. This commitment will reach an initial milestone in 2030, with a Group-wide target of having 40% sustainable materials in its tires.

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