A cargo ship powered by wind set sail from China to Brazil on Monday in a real-world test of the WindWings technology.
The Pyxis Ocean, owned by Japanese firm Mitsubishi and charted by shipping firm Cargill, is powered by sail-shaped turbines and aims to herald a new era of wind-powered cargo transport.
Folded down when the ship is in port, they are opened when it is at sea. They stand 123ft (37.5m) tall and are built of the same material as wind turbines, to make them durable.
Enabling a vessel to be blown along by the wind, rather than relying solely on its engine, could hopefully eventually reduce a cargo ship’s lifetime emissions by 30%.
Shipping is one of the world’s major pollutants and though alternatives that are less damaging are being developed, the cost is seen as a prohibitive factor in their adoption.
Ships powered by wind could decarbonize shipping
Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill Ocean Transportation, said the industry was on a “journey to decarbonize”. He admitted there was “no silver bullet” – but said this technology demonstrated how fast things were changing.
“Five, six years ago, if you would ask people in shipping about decarbonizing, they would say ‘well, it’s going to be very difficult, I don’t see this happening any time soon’,” he told the BBC.
“Five years later, I think the narrative has changed completely and everybody is really convinced that they need to do their part – everybody is just struggling a little on how we’re going to do this.
“That’s why we’ve taken the role as one of the larger players to underwrite some of the risk, and try things, and take the industry forward.”
The performance of the WindWings will be closely monitored over the coming months to further improve their design, operation, and performance, with the aim that the Pyxis Ocean will be used to inform the scale-up and adoption across not only Cargill’s fleet but the industry.
BAR Technologies and Yara Marine Technologies are already planning to build hundreds of wings over the next four years and BAR Technologies is also researching newbuilds with improved hydrodynamic hull forms.
“If international shipping is to achieve its ambition of reducing CO2 emissions, then innovation must come to the fore.” said John Cooper, Chief Executive Officer, BAR Technologies.
“Wind is a near-marginal cost-free fuel and the opportunity for reducing emissions, alongside significant efficiency gains in vessel operating costs, is substantial,” he added.
The WindWings project, which is co-funded by the European Union as part of the CHEK Horizon 2020 initiative, is aimed at providing a retrofit solution to help decarbonize existing vessels, which is particularly relevant given that 55 percent of the world’s bulker fleets are up to nine years in age.