By Marta Nogueira
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 13 (Reuters) - Brazilian miner Vale expects to receive in coming weeks its first-ever mineral transport ship propelled in part by sails, the company said on Thursday.
The ship, a VLOC, or very-large ore carrier, will also be the largest ever to be outfitted by the rotating sails, Vale said in a statement.
The sails in question are large metal cylinders four meters in diameter and 24 meters tall. While underway, the cylinders spin at different velocities, creating air pressure differences that help propel the ship forward.
"Wind energy was how commercial navigation started. It was forgotten about in the last few centuries, and it's coming back," Rodrigo Bermelho, Vale's head of marine engineering, told Reuters in a video interview.
Vale has been working to reposition itself in recent years as a trailblazer for sustainability in the mining industry, with executives increasingly focusing on the company's potential role in supplying electrical vehicle manufacturers.
The ship in question, which has a load capacity of 325,000 tons and has five sails, will be 8% more energy efficient, equivalent to 3,400 tons of carbon dioxide per year, Bermelho said.
If the project proves successful, at least 40% of the company's 114 Guiabamax and Valemax ships could also be retrofitted. Retrofitting all those ships with sails, Bermelho said, would reduce Vale's shipping-related emissions by 1.5%.
While Brazil's geographic distance from China - its main export market - is a relative disadvantage, the Brazil to Asia route is on average windier than the route from mining powerhouse Australia to mainland Asia, Bermelho said. (Reporting by Marta Nogueira; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Andrea Ricci)