Until the first quarter of 2023, there were 24 large ships installed with wind assist systems. This makes a total of 1.5 million deadweight tons of shipping with wind assist systems onboard. Within the following year, it is estimated that at least 49 vessels -equivalent to 3.3 million dwt- will be retrofitted with wind propulsion systems.
hat does this mean for the future of green shipping? What will be the role of wind propulsion in the decarbonization debate?
Wind propulsion as a decarbonization solution for shipping
Wind propulsion has been receiving increasing attention as an attractive decarbonization solution for shipping in the past years. One of its main advantages, compared to other alternative options, is the zero cost, argued Mr. Gavin Allwright, Secretary General, International Windship Association (IWSA) at the 2023 GREEN4SEA Athens Forum. For instance, even at the end of the ship’s life, the system can be put on another ship to secure another lifetime of zero emissions.
Another key advantage is flexibility, as the technology can complement and synergize with other decarbonization solutions. These include alternative fuels, hybrid propulsion systems, or energy storage technologies, maximizing the overall energy efficiency of the vessel. This makes its role significant, even though it may not be a standalone solution for all types of shipping routes.
Wind propulsion in shipping: Latest updates from 2023
The increasing role of wind technology in shipping decarbonization is also highlighted in recent initiatives by the EU. Under its Horizon Europe project, the EU provided EUR 9 million in funding to support the building of Orcelle Wind, the world’s first full-size wind-powered pure car and truck carrier, introduced by Wallenius Wilhelmsen in 2021. This is in addition to the EU funding of €9,2 million to WHISPER, an energy transition project which aims to enable wind-assisted retrofitting of ships to achieve emission reductions.
Last February, ‘Winds of Change’, a wind sail initiative by Smart Green Shipping, secured £60 million in funding under the UK Government’s clean maritime solutions program. This project was one of the 19 recipients of the funding, aiming to promote the development of sustainable solutions. The funds will be utilized to design and construct a cutting-edge wing sail, known as the ‘FastRig’. Once integrated into a vessel, this 20-meter-high sail aims to significantly reduce environmental impact. The ultimate goal is to revolutionize wind propulsion technology in the maritime industry.
Another EU-funded project, OPTIWISE, is investigating how the overall design of vessels can be adjusted to optimize wind-assisted propulsion. The three-year project running through May 2025 will involve 3 demo cases of wind propulsion concepts, as well as a general design and architecture proposal and a novel Energy Management System linked to voyage optimization for Wind Supported Vessels.
In the next two years, OPTIWISE has outlined its plan to utilize scale models of ships spanning several meters in length for testing wind systems and assessing the impact of technological advancements under different sea conditions. Additionally, the project aims to incorporate computer-based voyage simulations and employ machine learning. The innovations have the potential to achieve significant reductions in carbon emissions, surpassing 30% and possibly even reaching up to 50%.
Wind propulsion technology is seeing an increased interest in Japan. Earlier in the year, four Japanese companies, including Zephyrus Marine, Mirai Ships, Ad Hoc and SHIFT, signed an MoU to build the Zephyrus Zero Carbon Offshore wind service vessel. Last January, Japanese K Line and Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (J-Power) revealed plans to install the Seawing, an automated kite system powered by wind power, on the coal carrier Corona Citrus. Meanwhile, as part of its goal to goal net-zero emissions by 2050, Japanese ONE recently revealed plans to install two containerized wind assist units on its operated 1036 TEU capacity container feeder ‘Kalamazoo’ before the end of 2023.
The future of wind propulsion in shipping
Although the 24 vessels currently installed with wind-assisted systems are expected to double by the end of 2023, this is still a drop in the ocean compared to the 60.000 ships plying the world’s seas. However, latest research for the EU forecasts that by 2030, there will be between 3.000-10.000 ships featuring wind propulsion technology onboard. Meanwhile, research for the UK government foresees that 40%-45% of all ships will have wind propulsion systems installed by 2050.
Meanwhile, IWSA predicts that the figure could be even higher, considering that these projections only focus on three main ship types (container ships, bulk carriers and tankers). The entry into force of new regulations by the IMO on energy efficiency and carbon emissions in 2023 is also expected to spur growth.
Probably one of the biggest barriers to scaling quickly will be the available capacity for the shipyards and the ability for our members to actually ramp up production quickly. These are however well-signposted challenges, and the industry is already starting to adapt to meet them,
Mr. Allwright said at the 2023 GREEN4SEA Athens Forum.