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Zero emissions hydrofoil containership to replace air freight?

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Boundary Layer Technologies, a marine technology business based in California, has announced its operational plans and engineering design for the ARGO zero-emissions hydrofoil containership.

The business intends to operate these vessels in order to build a zero-emission shipping service capable of substituting for air freight along key intra-Asian trade corridors.

The ARGO ship has a gross payload capacity of 200 tons, a range of up to 1500 nautical miles, and a cruise speed of 40 knots, more than double the speed of ordinary container ships. According to the business, this performance would enable door-to-door transportation times to be only 15 to 24 hours slower than air freight, but at a fraction of the cost. ARGO is propelled by green hydrogen and fuel cells, which are kept in the vessel’s two hulls as a liquid.

ARGO can also be applied to replace other transport modes aside from air freight according to Stuart Whiting, Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain, Logistics & Planning at Schneider Electric. ”We can see ARGO as a beneficial addition to enhance our current feeder and premium ocean freight services around Southeast Asia that are often susceptible to delays.”

The company’s innovative hydrofoil technology enables ARGO to sail at 40 knots while consuming a quarter of the fuel required by a traditional ship traveling at the same speed. A hydrofoil is a submerged wing device that is used to elevate the hull out of the water in order to reduce drag. The business has finished development of critical components of ARGO’s technological stack and is on target to conduct full-scale subsystem tests by the end of 2023.

With a length of 110 feet and a capacity of 20 TEUs, ARGO is a fraction of the size of typical container ships, the largest of which is the OOCL Hong Kong, which is 1300 feet long and carries over 20,000 containers.

According to Ed Kearney, CEO and Founder of Boundary Layer Technologies, this exceptionally small size could be the key to resolving numerous supply chain difficulties.

“ARGO’s small size and payload capacity (comparable to a B747-400F freighter aircraft) cuts dwell time to only 2 hours instead of 3 days, and offers the flexibility of docking virtually anywhere. This allows ARGO to bypass heavily congested ports while also competing with air freight transit times.”

Boundary Layer Technologies’ solution is being well received in the market, according to Per Karsten Stolle, who is a strategic advisor to Boundary Layer Technologies and former Commercial Director of logistics giant DHL. “From what customers are telling us, the combination of a zero-emission transport solution that can also cut air freight spend would be a gamechanger for helping them meet emissions reduction targets while addressing rising costs from supply chain disruptions” says Per.

The company is actively seeking launch partners for an intra-Asia ARGO service that will begin in Q3 2024 and will transport finished goods and components for the region’s largest electronic manufacturers. It intends to launch a larger vessel on a transpacific service for which it has received a $180 million Letter of Intent from digital freight forwarder Flexport.

Nedim Husomanovic

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