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Clipper Ships Return: Green Vessels for Shipping Are in the Works

Builders plan wind-powered and other green vessels for shipping
Clipper Ships Return: Green Vessels for Shipping Are in the Works
Photograph by Greg Pease/Getty Images

Rolls-Royce Holdings is best known for producing engines that powered planes from the late Concorde to the current Airbus superjumbo. Now the British propulsion giant is working with partners to develop a modern-day clipper ship, as it bets that regulations curbing air pollution emissions will increase fuel costs for conventional ocean freighters and herald a New Age of Sail.

Cargo vessels are set for a design change embracing sleeker hulls and hybrid propulsion systems, according to London-based Rolls, which is helping to develop a ship featuring a 180-foot sail augmented by biomethane engines and carrying 4,500 tons of freight. “We’re at the dawn of a transition,” says Oskar Levander, vice president for innovation at Rolls’s marine unit, who predicts a switch to alternative fuels such as dimethyl ether and liquid natural gas, as well as “high-tech wind.”