The shipping industry may have long since replaced sails with engines, but a British startup is betting that wind-powered ships still have a bright future.
Founded in 2014, Smart Green Shipping (SGS) has developed a new type of wind sail called FastRig that reduces carbon emissions. According to the company, it can be retrofitted to existing merchant vessels with available deck space without requiring additional crew to operate or changes to port infrastructure. It’s also retractable to accommodate standard loading and unloading operations and is recyclable.
FastRig is coupled with TradeWind, the startup’s software tool, which offers operational optimization when the vessels are in use. It uses weather forecasts together with Big Data from The Met Office on wind, waves and currents to predict when wind propulsion can be deployed, suggesting the most optimal route and saving fuel.
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Based on the company’s case studies using 3D modelling, FastRig installed on an ultrabulk vessel transporting biomass from Baton Rouge to Liverpool could save 20% in fuel each year.
Now SGS is working with the University of Southampton on a project called Winds of Change, funded by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK, to decarbonise the country’s maritime sector.
“While new wind assist technologies are being developed, many are not yet commercial and their projected fuel savings have not been independently verified at sea, which is why UK funded research projects like this are so important,” leads lead scientist Dr Joseph Banks, of the Marine and Maritime Institute in Southampton, said in a statement.
3D impression of the FastRig sails mounted on an Ultrabulk ship. Credit: Smart Green Shipping
As part of the two-year development program, researchers at the university will develop new software tools that will accurately predict how modern ships will perform on the ocean when retrofitted with SGS wing sails.
They will also test the impact of a retractable 20 meter high FastRig attached to a British 105 meter merchant ship, the Pacific Grebe.
“This requires innovative numerical simulations, backed by experiments conducted in our highly instrumented 138-meter Boldrewood towing tank and RJ Mitchell wind tunnel,” added Banks.
Scientists at Southampton’s Marine and Maritime Institute hope their new tool, which predicts the fuel savings achieved by the wing sails, will encourage further investment in the UK’s marine technology sector.
“It is clear that shipping needs to reduce emissions quickly in the short term,” SGS CEO Diane Gilpin said in a statement. “Wind power, harnessed with sophisticated digital software and sophisticated equipment, is currently the fastest way for the sector to reduce fuel consumption and associated emissions.”