Pyxis Ocean Cargill

Cargo ship fitted with massive sails in bid to cut emissions

Image credit: Cargill

A cargo ship has been fitted with a new technology that will bring cutting-edge wind propulsion to commercial shipping for the first time.

Mitsubishi’s Pyxis Ocean, chartered by Cargill, is the first vessel to be retrofitted with two WindWings – large wing sails measuring up to 37.5m in height that can be fitted to the deck of cargo ships to harness the power of the wind.

The sails, which are developed by BAR Technologies, are expected to generate average fuel savings of up to 30 per cent on new build vessels. This could be even higher if used in combination with alternative fuels, Cargill said.

As wind power is not only zero emissions but is also non-depleting and hugely predictable, it offers significant efficiency gains in vessel operating costs.

On an average global route, WindWings can save 1.5 tonnes of fuel per WindWing per day – with the possibility of saving more on trans-ocean routes. This also translates into significant savings on fuel costs for ship operators.

The shipping industry, which moves approximately 90 per cent of world trade, currently contributes 2.4 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Shipping is notoriously difficult to decarbonise, and zero-carbon technologies that can be applied at scale to large ocean-going ships do not yet exist.

The installation of the wings took place at a Chinese shipyard and the vessel is now conducting her maiden voyage.

“The maritime industry is on a journey to decarbonise – it’s not an easy one, but it is an exciting one,” said Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill’s ocean transportation business. 

“A technology like WindWings doesn’t come without risk, and as an industry leader – in partnership with visionary shipowner Mitsubishi – we are not afraid to invest, take those risks and be transparent with our learnings to help our partners in maritime transition to a more sustainable future.”

The WindWings project, which is co-funded by the EU, could help the industry meet carbon reduction targets by offering a retrofit solution that is capable of decarbonising existing vessels. This is particularly relevant given the ageing status of the world’s larger ships – 55 per cent are up to nine years old.

The performance of the WindWings will be closely monitored over the coming months to further improve their design, operation and performance. Ultimately, the project could be used to ease the adoption of the technology across the industry.

BAR Technologies is already planning to build hundreds of wings over the next four years and researching new buildings with improved hydrodynamic hull forms.

John Cooper, the firm’s chief executive officer, said: “Wind is a near marginal cost-free fuel and the opportunity for reducing emissions, alongside significant efficiency gains in vessel operating costs, is substantial.

“Today is the culmination of years of pioneering research, where we’ve invested in our unique wind sail technology and sought out a skilled industrialisation partner in Yara Marine Technologies to provide vessel owners and operators with an opportunity to realise these efficiencies.”

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