The era of commercial sailing has been over for nearly 150 years. Yet now there are signs of a revival of wind-propelled vessels. In the wake of the climate targets set by the EU and the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations, this development comes as no real surprise. The Airbus Group is also on board.
Vessels with towing kites…
As is generally known, Airbus’ product portfolio includes passenger and freighter aircraft, helicopters, Ariane rockets, satellites, and a variety of spacecraft. Sailing ships are not on the list.
At least, until now. Airbus’ spin-off, Airseas, is piloting a wind project in the maritime transport industry. It involves attaching an innovative large wing to a ship capable of towing even greater container vessels. Concepts to utilize wind energy driven vessels able to travel at remarkable velocity across the Seven Seas, result from mounting political pressure to make the maritime industry cleaner and environmentally friendlier.
According to Airseas, its ‘Seawing’ kite saves 20% of fuel burn and notably reduces pollution emissions, once installed. The changing kite position is controlled electronically in order to provide the best thrust to the vessel in any given situation.
… versus ships propelled by rotor sails
Another innovative wind propulsion technology is being promoted by Finnish company Norsepower. It consists of rotor sails mounted on board a vessel. The Nordic company claims that its rotor sails provide a reliable and easy-to-operate auxiliary wind propulsion system with a proven savings record. Norsepower Rotor Sails can typically reduce fuel consumption by 5-20%. “Our vision is to set the standard in bringing sails back to ocean transportation and empower shipping towards reaching the goal of zero carbon emission. Our entire team is strongly motivated by our mission to reduce the environmental impact of shipping with our Rotor Sails,” assures Tuomas Riski, CEO & Partner of Norsepower.
Up to 50% savings
A similar goal is being targeted by windmill producer Enercon. In order to transport its windmills to offshore locations in the North and Baltic Sea, it has built a so-called ‘E-Ship’, able to accommodate up to 20 wind turbines due to be anchored in predetermined places outside the main shipping routes in the sea. To laymen, the ship looks like an old factory with 4 chimneys. However, in reality, it is a high-tech machine, equipped with four 20-meter-high metal cylinders with a diameter of 4.30 meters, which are set in rotation by wind currents, once installed. The wind that hits the cylinders is accelerated on one side and slowed down on the opposite side. The difference in pressure is used as a source of energy to propel the vessel. E-Ship 1 operator Enercon expects savings of up to 50% compared to conventional ships.
According to information from the International Windship Association, a dozen large vessels with additional wind propulsion systems are currently in operation worldwide, including container ships. If rotor sails, kites, or both systems, become established, this will lead to an enormous reduction in fossil energy consumption in commercial shipping. Today, the global fleet of container ships consumes 280 million metric tons of oil per year. Most of this is the hazardous, sulfurous heavy oil.
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