Visionary transportation projects are en vogue. And besides their economic advantages, the focus is also always on climate friendliness. This applies to commercial drone operations, tube trains such as the Hyperloop, mega-sized transport aircraft like the AirLander, as well as to Argo, a hydrogen-powered box carrier that will be cruising the seas come 2025, the operators announce.
Promoter of the Argo concept is Boundary Layer Technologies (BLT), based in Alameda, California, around 8,800 km away from Korinthos; one of the largest and most important cities in ancient Greece. The name “Argos” originated there. According to Greek mythology, it was a ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed from Iolcus, Thessaly, to Colchis, at the eastern shores of the Black Sea, to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
Impressive performance figures
Instead of sailing, however, the new Argo is to be powered by hydrogen, says BLT. And in contrast to its ancient predecessor, bringing home a golden fleece is not the goal of the project either. Instead, it aims to transport up to twenty containers (20 TEU) per voyage. The foil ships can cover 1500 nautical miles (2,778 km) by reaching a speed of 40 knots (74 km/h). This performance would enable door-door transit times only 15 to 24 hours slower than air freight, but at 50% of the price, according to the company.
The speed and price advantages are enabled by the company’s proprietary hydrofoil technology which is key to allowing Argo to travel at 40 knots while using a fraction of the fuel that a conventional box ship would need when traveling at the same high speed. A hydrofoil is a submerged wing device used to lift the hull from the water to reduce drag. The company has already completed development of key pieces of Argo’s technology stack, and is on track to perform full scale sub system tests by the end of 2023. First commercial sailings are expected for 2025.
Alternative option to air freight
As far as the operational side is concerned, the BLT managers are thinking primarily of routes in East Asian waters. “Argo’s small size and payload capacity [comparable to a B747-400 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,” states Ed Kearney, CEO and Founder of Boundary Layer Technologies.
According to BLT’s press announcement, Argo operates at half the price of air freight, and travels at twice the speed of conventional containerships. Its smaller size enables it to dock in a multitude of small ports, unlocking priority fast clearance times. It can also be fully unloaded and loaded in less than 2 hours versus 2 to 3 days for very large container ships. All it needs is a quay to moor.
The goal is to ship high value goods
The company plans to operate these vessels to establish a zero-emission shipping service that can replace air freight along major intra-Asia trade lanes.
In the meantime, first observers such as Stuart Whiting, Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain, Logistics & Planning at Schneider Electric, have expressed their basic interest in the project. “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 manager stated.
A larger variant is due to follow
Another statement comes from Per Karsten Stolle, former Commercial Director of DHL and meanwhile strategic advisor to BDL: “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.”
As it stands, the zero-emissions hydrofoil containerships are a great hope for operations in coastal waters. Physically, the vessel does not yet exist, but BLT is already thinking ahead: It has plans in the drawer to launch a larger variant on a transpacific service for which digital freight forwarder, Flexport, signed a US$180m Letter of Intent.
We welcome and publish comments from all authenticated users.