Cargo ships powered by wind could help fight climate change

Future cargo ships are set to be powered by wind once again due to a new project that retrofits large vessels with ultra-modern wing sails. If successful, the project could significantly contribute to cutting carbon emissions.

The project, funded by Innovate UK, is being carried out at the University of Southampton’s Marine and Maritime Institute, which aims to address some of today’s global marine and maritime challenges. The project will investigate the potential of the technology on cargo ships as part of efforts to decarbonise the maritime industry.

The research team intends to create new software tools which accurately predict how modern vessels perform on the ocean when fitted with the FastRig wing-sails – a product developed by UK company Smart Green Shipping.

The global shipping industry must be decarbonised

Lead scientist Dr Joseph Banks, from Southampton’s Marine and Maritime Institute, said that global shipping needs to decarbonise quickly in order to reverse some of the effects of climate change.

He commented: “Cargo ships powered by wind is obviously nothing new – but almost every large vessel operating today is powered by fossil fuels, leaving a lasting mark on the environment.

“While new wind-assist technologies are being developed, many are not ready for market, and their predicted fuel savings have not been independently verified at sea. This is why UK-funded research projects like this are so important.”

The Winds of Change project – generating clean maritime equipment

The grants for the Winds of Change project – the collaboration between Southampton and Smart Green Shipping – were provided by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK, which is working to transform the UK into a world leader in generating clean maritime equipment.

As part of the two-year development programme, scientists will test the impact of a retractable 20-metre-high FastRig wing sail retrofitted on commercial cargo ships. The Pacific Grebe, which is a British 105-metre vessel, will be the first ship to be equipped with this new invention.

Dr Banks explained: “This is an innovative project because the technology can be retrofitted to pre-existing vessels to quickly reduce emissions from existing cargo ships and help create quieter, emission-free ships in the future. These ships will not harm ocean environments and improve air quality in ports, towns, and cities.”

He added: “Our team of researchers will investigate the complex interactions between the wing sails and the ship hydrodynamics, enabling accurate predictions of vessel performance, which will be compared to the demonstration cargo ship as part of the project.”

Driving further investment into marine technology

Experts from Southampton’s Marine and Maritime Institute hope their new tool for cargo ships, which predicts the fuel savings delivered by the wing sails, will drive further investment in the UK’s marine technology sector and encourage the next generation into the exciting field of Maritime Engineering.

Diane Gilpin, CEO of Smart Green Shipping, said: “I’m thrilled that the UK is demonstrating ongoing faith in our FastRig technology, which holds the key to rapidly reducing emissions from cargo ships.”

She concluded: “Climate science clarifies that shipping must rapidly reduce emissions in the short term. Wind power harnessed using sophisticated digital software and well-engineered equipment is currently the fastest way for the sector to reduce fuel consumption and related emissions.”

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