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Michelin's Wing Sail Mobility (WISAMO) system can reduce a cargo ship's fuel consumption by up to 20 percent. Photo: Courtesy of Michelin.

Dirty cargo ships urgently searching for cleaner propulsion alternatives might consider a new spin on an old idea: inflatable sails.

What's new: The Wing Sail Mobility (WISAMO) project, an automated, inflatable wing sail system, was introduced this week by Michelin, the French company known for its tires and restaurant guides.

  • Two Swiss inventors co-developed the system with Michelin R&D.
  • The telescopic mast is retractable, making it easy for a ship to enter harbors and pass under bridges.
  • The puffy, 1,000-square-foot sails, each shaped like an airplane wing, automatically fold up like an accordion on the ship's deck when not in use.

Why it matters: Michelin says the system — which operates in addition to conventional propulsion — can improve a ship’s fuel efficiency by up to 20%. (Watch a video of how it might work here.)

The big picture: The shipping industry, which accounts for almost 3% of the world's carbon emissions, is scrambling to adopt cleaner technologies.

  • In 2018 the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations regulatory agency, set tough new targets for greenhouse gas reduction.
  • By 2050, shipping needs to reduce emissions by 50% compared to 2008 levels, with the goal of eventually phasing out all greenhouse emissions.

What to watch: French sailor and racer Michel Desjoyeaux has been testing the WISAMO system on a sailboat.

  • It will then be tested on a merchant ship in 2022 before going into production.
  • The plug-and-play design can be retrofitted to existing vessels — including pleasure craft — or designed into new ships.

Go deeper

Breaking Biden's diplomatic logjam

Expand chart
Data: Center for Presidential Transition via Congress.gov; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The logjam for reviewing and confirming President Biden's ambassadorial picks is finally starting to break.

Why it matters: Biden is far behind his predecessors in the rate at which his ambassadorial picks have been confirmed. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a series of high-profile hearings and votes this week to finally begin chipping away at the backlog.

9 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats brace for staredown over paid family medical leave

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senior House Democrats are braced for battle with the Senate over whether paid family medical leave — a key priority for progressives — will be included in President Biden’s final budget reconciliation bill, lawmakers and aides tell Axios.

Why it matters: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has indicated he wants to cut the program to reduce the bill's price tag. “Paid family and medical leave must be in the final package,” Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Axios on Monday.

42 mins ago - World

Poland showdown is EU's Jan. 6 moment, top official says

Didier Reynders. Photo: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Poland and Hungary have forced a moment of reflection on the European Union — similar to the one in the U.S. after the Jan. 6 insurrection, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told Axios.

What he's saying: "During many years, we have had in our minds that it was granted that if you are a member of the EU, of course you apply the rule of law; you have full respect for democracy, fundamental rights and so on — maybe with some concerns but with a real intention to adapt your legislation to be in full compliance [with EU law]," Reynders said.