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Ships with a tailwind

Climate change requires new approaches to ship propulsion. Wind is once again in the discussion as an auxiliary technology.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has declared its intention to lower the COemissions from international shipping dramatically. Scientists are exploring a wide range of technologies to make ships more eco-friendly. Among the top candidates: Wind propulsion. “Wind is a classic among ship propulsion systems. Combined with other propulsion technologies it could play a significant role in further lowering emissions from shipping,” says Ralf Nagel, Managing Member of the Board of the German shipowners association, VDR.

Wind-only propulsion is hardly ever taken into consideration in any of these future scenarios; wind is too unreliable, and voyage schedules in modern shipping are too tight. This is why smart wind-assisted propulsion solutions are favoured; one example is the proven Flettner rotor sail. The shipping company Scandlines recently equipped its hybrid ferry “Copenhagen” with one of these cylindrical rotor sails, a unit 30 metres tall. At high sea, electric motors automatically start the cylinder rotation, generating suction and dynamic pressure which result in a propulsive force. The faster the rotor sail turns, the lower the remaining load on the ship’s engines. Potential fuel savings: Around 5 per cent.

Sails made from metal

The Catalan start-up bound4blue has developed an intelligent wingsail system. Instead of fabric, the sails are made of metal. “Shipping companies can save up to 40 per cent of fuel and the associated emissions,” says the company’s COO, Cristina Aleixendri.

The “Oceanbird” project of shipowner Wallenius is even more ambitious: The new, wind-propelled car carrier, designed to transport up to 7,000 vehicles, will be equipped with flexible sail-masts 80 metres tall. According to experts from Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, the sails could save up to 90 per cent of a comparable conventional propulsion system’s energy consumption.

At the environmental conference gmec during SMM DIGITAL, industry experts will discuss other green technologies that could be combined with wind energy.

The conference will be streamed online on Wednesday, 3 February from 9:30 AM to 3:40 PM.

Participation is free of charge, and no registration is required.


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