It’s like chatting to a trader at a European port more than a century ago as I ask Jorne Langelaan, founder and CEO of Dutch shipping startup EcoClipper, how his ship’s maiden voyage is going.
“In the beginning, the winds were really favourable,” he says of the progress of the 1912-built De Tukker, which has recently been sailing regularly to ports across Europe. The first loads include chocolate, olive oil and wine.
En route from the Netherlands to Portugal, De Tukker’s crew, like many thousands of seafarers in centuries past, had to sail close to the Atlantic winds to get south past the west coast of France.
“Otherwise,” says Langelaan, “you can easily get pulled into the Bay of Biscay because of the currents there and the prevailing winds.” half of this consists of loans.
Captain Jorne Langelaan on board the sailing ship De Tukker
Does the future of shipping look confusingly similar to its past? Perhaps. The industry certainly faces a major challenge when it comes to becoming greener. Global, Shipping is responsible for 3% of greenhouse gas emissions — but that’s more than it sounds, as shipping is very difficult to decarbonize as huge merchant ships have long relied on highly polluting bunker fuel.
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Up to 90% of the goods are transported by ship and demand is increasing, so the potential climate impact of shipping will only increase in the future unless cleaner fuels or zero-emission technologies emerge as viable alternatives.
One hurdle is scaling. De Tukker can carry a maximum load of around 80 tonnes – eclipsing the 200,000 tonnes or more that the largest container ships can carry. But Langelaan says he has received interest from companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint and take advantage of zero-emission transport. For example, several construction companies have recently been in contact, as some are under pressure to reduce their emissions.
Langelaan points out that De Tukker is not only an emission-free ship, but also extremely quiet, so there is practically no danger Noise pollution known to have a negative impact on marine life. The ship actually has an engine, but the crew hardly ever uses it. She travels about half as fast as modern large merchant ships.
Langelaan and his colleagues hope to deploy a whole fleet of newly built sailing ships in the coming years, with designs inspired by classic Dutch cargo ships. Clipper ships – among them the famous Cutty Sark – have been refined over many years of maritime development, Langelaan points out.
“We don’t really have the resources to do a lot of research and development, so we just took what worked and used it,” he explains, referring to the EcoClipper Prototype500 ship conceptwhich would have a loading capacity of 500 tons.
Langelaan already has a Dutch shipyard in mind that he thinks could build the first of these new ships, but adds that the project will require investment. If that happens, he plans to launch a newly built clipper-style ship as early as 2026.
Sails are back
For Joe Banks, Lecturer in Naval Science and Marine Engineering at the University of Southampton, EcoClipper’s approach is certainly passionate. “These historic ships were beautiful and there was a nostalgia, a romance,” he says.
However, he argues that it is the vast existing fleet of giant merchant ships that deserves the most focus. Shipping companies can reduce their climate impact Adding miniature sails or dragon to their ships so that they can use the wind. Automation can also help to make them as efficient as possible, he adds.
“My instinct is that if we consider retrofitting existing vessels with modern automated systems, we will have a greater impact,” says Banks.
He and his colleagues from the University of Southampton will start a project to test the effects of Adding a 20m retractable sail to a cargo ship The so-called Pacific crested grebe has been used for many years to transport nuclear waste.
However, EcoClipper could still play an important role in highlighting the benefits of shipping cargo under sail, argues Banks: “There is […] Raising awareness and demonstrating the benefits is important.”
Langelaan also makes another point: One way to reduce emissions is simply by shipping less and reducing humanity’s overall impact on the planet. “As a ship owner, I shouldn’t really be saying that,” he jokes.
At the moment, De Tukker has the wind in its sails and has a busy schedule to meet. Langelaan lists the various places she will be calling in the coming weeks, including the UK, France and back to the Netherlands. From tall ship parties to lugging around building materials.
“Then it starts all over again,” he says, again with the air of a tough old sailor. “The ship will be constantly underway.”