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Image credit: Maersk Tankers
Image credit: Maersk Tankers

Clean Transport

Emissions From Huge Vessels Are About To Get Slashed With The Use Of Rotor Sails — Large-Scale Testing Begins

Two 30-meter tall Rotor Sails have been installed onboard the product tanker vessel Maersk Pelican, targeting a reduction in fuel cost and associated emissions on typical global shipping routes of 7-10%.

An article in Ingeniøren put me on track to reveal this interesting bit of maritime news: Two 30-meter tall Rotor Sails have been installed onboard the product tanker vessel Maersk Pelican, targeting a reduction in fuel cost and associated emissions on typical global shipping routes of 7–10%.

Image credit: Maersk Tankers

A press release from Maersk Tankers on August 30, 2018 provides more details:

Norsepower Oy Ltd., together with project partners Maersk Tankers, Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) and Shell Shipping & Maritime, today announced the installation of two Norsepower Rotor Sails onboard Maersk Pelican, a Maersk Tankers Long Range 2 (LR2) product tanker vessel.

The Rotor Sails are large, cylindrical mechanical sails that spin to create a pressure differential – called the Magnus effect – that propels the vessel forward. The Rotor Sails will provide auxiliary wind propulsion to the vessel, optimising fuel efficiency by reducing fuel consumption and associated emissions by an expected 7-10% on typical global shipping routes.

The Rotor Sails are the world’s largest at 30 metres tall by five metres in diameter and were installed on the product tanker vessel in the port of Rotterdam. The first voyage with the Rotor Sails installed will commence shortly.

Here is a short introduction video from Norsepower on how this system actually works:

In the press release CTO of Maersk Tankers, Tommy Thomassen elaborates:

This project is breaking ground in the product tanker industry. While the industry has gone through decades of technological development, the use of wind propulsion technology onboard a product tanker vessel could take us to a new playing field. This new technology has the potential to help the industry be more cost-competitive as it moves cargoes around the world for customers and to reduce the environmental impact.

Tuomas Riski, CEO, Norsepower, added:

We have great ambitions for our technology and its role in decarbonising the shipping industry. The installation of our largest ever Rotor Sails in partnership with these industry leading organisations shows that there is an appetite to apply new technologies.

With this installation on the Maersk Pelican, there are now three vessels in daily commercial operation using Norsepower’s Rotor Sails. Each of these cases represents a very different vessel type and operational profile, demonstrating the widespread opportunity to harness the wind through Flettner rotors across the maritime industry.

Earlier, the shipping industry has felt the heat for not taking responsibility for its huge emissions of greenhouse gasses and particulates. Large vessel engines are known for being able to burn very heavy fuels, the so-called bunker-fuels that contains a lot of sulfur, among other things. Bunker fuel is what’s left over when crude oil has been refined into all the lighter products such as gasoline and diesel. If you want to know more about how much those ships actually pollute, listen to this radio piece from BBC World Service, which explains interesting details, like the very sensitive parameter of vessel-speed (e.g. from 2008 to 2012 sulfur emissions from the largest ships halved due to going slower to save money!)

In late 2016 the United Nations maritime organization IMO made an agreement with the shipping industry to observe and register the use of fuels in the large vessels of the world. It has been criticized that not enough regulation is in effect yet. But it might still have an effect on who gets the orders, if environmental impact is of any concern to the customers.

Image credit: Maersk Tankers

Each Norsepower Rotor Sail is made using lightweight composite sandwich materials, and when wind conditions are favorable, the main engines can be throttled back, saving fuel and reducing emissions while maintaining speed and voyage time. I asked Maersk Tankers what “favorable wind conditions” mean in real life operation, and I will get back to that if they respond.

Even though Norsepower now claims that rotor sails can lead to a cleaner shipping industry, this technology is far from new.

In 1924 the German engineer Anton Flettner built the first ship with rotor sails, which you can see in this CleanTechnica article on the subject, hence the commonly used name Flettner rotor sails. The principle of propulsion by rotor sails derives from the so-called Magnus effect, named after Heinrich Gustav Magnus, a German physicist who investigated this effect, which you also see when you spin a ball in tennis and soccer.

It has been tried with large ships a few years back, like this 9,700 dead weight tonnage installation, but the sheer scale of this new test on the 110,000 deadweight tonnage Maersk Pelican is a first of its kind.

Here is a video of the mounting of one of the rotor sails:

Huge indeed. Let’s hope this works out and they hit those 2-digit saving goals. However, I see room for many more rotors on this vessel! Odd sight on the seas though.

Featured image credit: Maersk Tankers

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Written By

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.


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