French multinational Michelin Tire has signed up to ship some of the tires it makes in Nova Scotia across the Atlantic to France on a cargo vessel powered mainly by sail.
The agreement with Neoline, a startup shipping line based in Nantes, France, is being explained as an effort to reduce Michelin’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“This initiative and this new partnership promote innovation in the field of carbon-free transport,” Pierre-Martin Huet, Michelin Group’s supply chain director, said in a statement.
Michelin has committed to move about 100 containers a year from Halifax to the port of Saint-Nazaire in Brittany on a yet-to-be-built commercial sailing ship when it begins a new transatlantic service in 2023.
A trip every two weeks
Neoline said it will select a shipyard within weeks to build the first of two 136-metre cargo vessels, which will feature 4,200 square metres of sail.
The service — with 24 trips a year and an average speed of 11 knots — will reduce fuel consumption by up to 90 per cent of conventional vessels, said the company.
“We want to put in action pragmatic solutions which we already mastered, but enhanced by new technologies. We developed these kinds of vessels in order to carry goods in an industrial way, but relying massively on wind propulsion,” Neoline CEO Jean Zanuttini said in an interview from Nantes.
The tire maker provides a major customer for the eastbound leg of the service, which calls at Baltimore, Halifax, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and back to Saint-Nazaire.
Neoline said it already has French manufacturers lined up who want to ship to the United States, citing boat manufacturer Beneteau and forklift and machinery company Manitou.
“If we do not deliver the service, of course, [Michelin] can be released from their engagement, but otherwise it’s a multi-year engagement and with the fixed price on our side,” said Zanuttini.
The service is still a pilot project and is running against the tide of ever-larger container ships that now routinely carry 10,000 TEU (20-foot equivalent) containers. Neoline’s sail-powered ship would carry 280.
Zanuttini will not disclose rates — normal in the shipping industry — but said the company will offer set rates, which is an attraction in a business where they can fluctuate due to fuel costs.
He maintains there is a niche market in the future.
“We all know that in the post-carbon world, we will have to transport more valuable goods and also in a more direct way. This is the model that we are pushing,” he said.
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