The use of sail rotor technology is booming as the force of new carbon efficiency regulation shifts, with shipping lines now looking to boost wind power, according to the Financial Times.
Shipping is going back to the future. Thousands of years after the Egyptians first used sails to move ships along the Nile, big business is once again looking to the power of the wind to move goods around the world.
From giant kites to towering sails, technologies are being developed to power ships with less need for fossil fuels, just as rising energy costs and tougher environmental regulations are putting pressure on the shipping industry to clean up.
Wind energy enthusiasts believe these technologies should play a leading role in ambitions to remove carbon emissions from the supply chain. Others, however, have pointed to the limited benefits on certain ships or trade routes. They have also questioned whether the shipping industry, which has been one of the most resistant to decarbonization, can be incentivized to invest the millions needed to rebuild the global fleet.
“In 2014, I’d walk into a room and almost everyone would say, ‘Oh no, he’s going to talk about this crazy idea,'” says Gavin Allwright, secretary general of the International Windship Association, which represents several start-ups developing wind propulsion systems. But he suggests that attitudes have “fundamentally changed.”
Allwright notes that after a handful of companies began installing wind propulsion technology on their ships, “I was able to strike up conversations and say, ‘Your competitors are doing this, why aren’t you?”
In 2018, Maersk, then the world’s largest container shipping group, installed two 30-meter-tall rotor sails on a tanker: the Maersk Pelican. These rotating sails, designed to propel the craft by changing the velocity of the airflow around it, were hailed as an opportunity to reduce the Pelican’s reliance on fuel and create a “new playing field”.
Most recently, US food company Cargill announced plans to install two collapsible sails on the deck of a bulk carrier, built by Mitsubishi in 2017 and chartered by Cargill.
“We’ve been intrigued by the wind for a long time,” explains Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill’s Shipping division, who anticipates the modernized ship will be ready to sail in the spring. He says wind “clearly has a role to play in minimizing” the amount that must be spent on green propulsion methods, which remain more expensive than fossil fuels.
Wind power advocates hope that tougher environmental regulations will now prompt more investment in the technology. Last year, six countries submitted a document with the IWA to the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO), stating that wind propulsion systems were “ready, sufficiently mature and available” to help shipping reduce emissions.
Erik Grundt, an analyst at research firm Rystad Energy, says the recent introduction of IMO carbon intensity indicator regulations, which require every ship to have a carbon efficiency rating, will increase pressure on owners to reduce emissions.
“We are going to see an explosion in rotor sail adoption,” he predicts.
Grundt argues that while clean fuels like hydrogen and ammonia raise concerns about their cost and toxicity, wind is “free” and sails are “proven technologies.”
However, industry watchers say the investment is being held back by uncertainty about how much money and energy current wind propulsion systems can save when used on large vessels, many of which carry more than 100,000 tons of cargo.
Source: The Financial Times