The first wind-powered freight ship takes sail.

A cargo ship outfitted with massive, rigid sails designed in the United Kingdom has set sail on its inaugural journey.

Cargill, the shipping company that chartered the vessel, expects that the technology will help the sector chart a road toward a cleaner future.

The WindWings sails are intended to reduce fuel usage and thereby the carbon impact of shipping.

The industry is projected to be responsible for approximately 2.1% of worldwide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The Pyxis Ocean’s first voyage from China to Brazil will provide the first real-world test of the WindWings, as well as an opportunity to examine whether a return to traditional ship propulsion methods is the way forward for carrying goods at sea.

When the ship is in port, the wings are folded down; when it is in open water, the wings are opened up. They are 123ft (37.5m) tall and made with the same material as wind turbines to ensure durability.

Allowing a cargo ship to be pushed along by the wind rather than relying exclusively on its engine might eventually lower lifetime emissions by 30%.

Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill Ocean Transportation, stated that the business is on a “decarbonization journey.” He acknowledged that there was “no silver bullet,” but that this technology proved how quickly things were changing.

“Five, six years ago, if you asked people in shipping about decarbonization, they’d say, ‘well, it’s going to be very difficult, I don’t see this happening any time soon,'” he told the BBC.

“Five years later, I think the narrative has completely changed, and everyone is really convinced that they need to do their part – everyone is just a little confused about how we’re going to do this.”

“That’s why, as one of the larger players, we’ve taken on the role of underwriting some of the risk, trying new things, and moving the industry forward.”

The Pyxis Ocean is expected to take six weeks to reach its destination, but the technology it employs has its roots in something considerably faster.

It was created by BAR Technologies, a spin-off from Sir Ben Ainslie’s 2017 America’s Cup team, which has been dubbed the “Formula One of the seas.”

“This is one of the slowest projects we’ve done, but without a doubt with the greatest impact for the planet,” said its head, John Cooper, who formerly worked for Formula One team McLaren.

He believes that this expedition will be a watershed moment for the marine industry.

“I predict that by 2025, half of all new ships will be ordered with wind propulsion,” he stated.

“The reason I’m so confident is because of our savings – 1.5 tonnes of fuel per day.” Putting four wings on a vessel saves six tonnes of fuel and 20 tonnes of CO2 per day. The figures are staggering.”

The idea originated in the United Kingdom, however the wings are made in China. Mr Cooper claims that a lack of government support for lowering the cost of imported steel precludes the company from producing them locally.

“It’s a shame, because I’d love to build in the UK,” he told the BBC.

‘Throw everything at it,’ says the author.
Wind power, according to experts, is a viable area to investigate as the maritime sector strives to cut the estimated 837 million tonnes of CO2 it emits each year.

It pledged in July to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to net zero “by or around 2050,” a vow that opponents argued was meaningless.

“Wind power can make a big difference,” says Dr Simon Bullock, a shipping expert at the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre.

He stated that while new cleaner fuels will take time to develop, “we must throw everything at operational measures on existing ships, such as retrofitting vessels with sails, kites, and rotors.”

“Ultimately, zero-carbon fuels will be required on all ships, but in the meantime, it is critical to make every journey as efficient as possible.” Slower speeds are also important components of the solution,” he told the BBC.

Wind-related technologies, according to Stephen Gordon, managing director of the maritime data firm Clarksons Research, are “gaining some traction.”

“We’ve seen the number of ships using this technology double in the last year,” he said.

“However, this is from a low basis. We have records for less than 100 wind-assisted vessels in the international shipping fleet and new-build order book of over 110,000 vessels presently.”

Even if that number rises considerably, wind technology may not be suited for all vessels, for example, where the sails interfere with container unloading.

“The shipping industry does not yet have a clear decarbonisation pathway, and, given the scale of the challenge and the diversity of the world shipping fleet, there is unlikely to be a single solution for the industry in the short or medium term,” Mr Gordon projected.

BAR Technologies’ John Cooper, on the other hand, is more optimistic, saying the future of wind wings is “very rosy.”

He also confesses that he finds some satisfaction in the thought of the industry returning to its roots.

“The engineers hate it, but I always say it’s back to the future,” he explained.

“The invention of big combustion engines destroyed trade routes and sailing routes, and now we’re going to try to reverse that trend, just a little bit.”


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