Could A Return To Wind Power Be The Future For Shipping

As the shipping industry searches for ways to reduce its carbon footprint, one solution has looked to the past: harnessing the power of the wind. Scotland based company Smart Green Shipping (SGS) has launched a £5m research and development project for its FastRigs wing sail technology, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers reports. 

The three-year project has received financial backing of a £1.8m grant from the Scottish Government, and it has also had £3.2m of investment from the private sector. SGS will be working with Drax, Peel Ports, Malin, and Lloyd’s Register throughout the project. 

The FastRigs design consists of a series of vertical aerofoils which are mounted along the length of a ship. The aerofoils are fitted with smart technology, to help with reading the weather to calculate the current wind speeds, and to adjust the angle to make the most of the conditions. 

The promising new wind sail technology could eventually lead to significantly less reliance on the use of polluting fuels, which deplete the world’s natural resources of coal, oil, and gas. It could ultimately deliver major cost savings for shipping companies as well. 

Alongside the new sail technology, SGS are also developing new weather routing software, known as TradeWind, to help mariners plan the best routes to maximise wind power. Currently, the project is testing at land-based sites at Hunterson Port and Resource Centre, before off shore testing which is expected to take place in 2023. 

SGS founder Diane Gilpin said: “Scotland’s decision to support this project shows that wind technology has the might of a maritime nation behind it. Shipping has a long history of harnessing the power of wind, but digital technologies are allowing us to work towards making zero emission vessels a reality.”

She added: “Smart Green Shipping’s FastRig wing sail technology offers a financially and technically robust solution to help support shipping’s green transition.”

The shipping industry currently creates about 940 million tonnes of C02 every year, and this amount is expected to increase as the demand for international trade grows. Therefore, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has set a target to reduce C02 emissions by 50% by 2050.

In addition to state-of-the-art meteorological and satellite technology, the wing sail system will be fitted with sensors, which will automatically turn and tilt to optimise the wind angle and speed. They will also have the power to automatically retract when faced with an obstacle such as a bridge, or if the wind is dangerously strong.

Scottish Business Minister Ivan McKee said: “The FastRig project is an excellent example of how innovation can help us progress in low carbon technologies and ensure Scotland is playing its part in these developments, creating more green jobs and business opportunities to take us on a Mission Zero for transport.”

It is hoped that the new technology can be retrofitted to existing ships, and it is projected to reduce fuel consumption by at least a fifth. 

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