From: MAT MCDERMOTT, Yale Environment360
Published August 1, 2013 06:03 AM

Is Carbon-Free Shipping possible?

This week a new sailing barge was launched on Lake Champlain that its backers hope will soon be in the vanguard of a new carbon-neutral shipping alternative. The 39-foot Ceres — built by volunteers from the Vermont Sail Freight Project and farmer Erik Andrus — is an update on the type of cargo vessels that once plied the inland waterways throughout the northeastern U.S. Like them, the Ceres will sail without any sort of motorized assistance.

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With the Ceres, the Vermont Sail Freight Project, which is supported by the nonprofit Willowell Foundation, hopes to prove that carbon-neutral boats can be a viable shipping method for the 21st century, connecting small-scale farmers in Vermont and upstate New York with customers along the Hudson River south to New York City — all while reducing the substantial greenhouse gas emissions that come from conventional shipping of produce, which is dominated in the region by trucks.

For the next few weeks, the Ceres — which consists of a flat-bottomed plywood box hull covered in fiberglass and a rig borrowed from traditional English Thames barges — will undergo testing on Lake Champlain. If all goes as planned, this fall it will begin its 300-mile maiden voyage down the Hudson to New York, delivering pre-ordered shelf-stable produce to customers along the route.

With no refrigerator onboard, the Ceres will have to carry goods that will last the approximately 10-day trip without losing quality. Grains, dry beans, preserves, onions, squash, and potatoes will make the trip. Without a fixed sailing schedule, customers will learn their orders are approaching by phone, text, or email.

Though a blip on the transportation radar, the Vermont Sail Freight Project (VSFP) is one of a growing number of efforts to revive sail-powered transport in connection with sustainable agriculture, in both the United States and Europe.

Photo of Ceres under construction courtesy of Vermont Sail Freight Project.

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