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Wind Power Returns To Oceangoing Cargo Ships, Finally

Wind power finally comes home to roost in the maritime industry as cargo ships set sail with high tech renewable energy on board.

Here’s a question for you: why did the US Office of Fossil Energy tweet out a Happy Columbus Day message on Columbus Day? Who knows! Whatever the motive, they did remind everybody that Columbus traveled across the seas, which doesn’t have much to do with fossil energy. However, the topic of seacraft does call to mind that fossil energy is on the verge of losing its grip on the global cargo shipping sector, partly because a new wind power renaissance is taking hold.

wind power for cargo ships,c2699453

The Maersk Pelican cargo ship is among the first cargo ships in the 21st century to return to wind power, equipped with new Rotor Sails from the Finnish company Norsepower — courtesy of Wartsila corp. via 

Fossil Energy Office Hearts Wind Power

The meat of that Columbus Day tweet from the Fossil Energy office, was this:

“The brave men of Christopher Columbus’ crew made the voyage across the sea to a new world in 1492.”

Not to parse words (but we will anyways), that kind of skips right over Columbus himself and settles on the crew, none of whom have US national holidays celebrated in their names, but whatever. Also, the thing about “new world” is kind of dated.

More to the point, “made the voyage across the sea” is shorthand for what actually happened, which involved wind power.

Come on, Fossil Energy Office, just say. the. word. You mean sailed, right?

Wind Power For Cargo Ships

After a centuries-long hiatus, wind power has been slowly creeping back into the cargo shipping area. Solar power and energy storage are also part of the mix, and now it looks like the clean tech creeping has suddenly turned into more of a leaping.

One major development occurred last week, when the competitive sailing firm VPLP announced that it is introducing its proprietary “Oceanwings” soft sail technology into the marine transport field.

The first Oceanwings cargo ship to be designed by VPLP will be dubbed Canopée, which translates into “canopy” in English.

Our friends over at Hellenic Shipping News have the rundown on the new 121-meter ship, which will be equipped with four 30-meter Oceanwings sails. They won’t provide for main propulsion but VPLP estimates that they will cut fuel consumption and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 30%.

The ship will also be equipped with solar panels and a full slate of energy efficiency specs.

Of particular interest, Canopée is being designed with a specific mission in mind, the transportation of parts for Airbus’s new Ariane 6 launcher from Europe to the launch site in French Guiana.

More Wind Power For More Cargo Ships

Another important development occurred earlier this week, when Finland’s Wärtsilä and Norsepower announced a new mashup aimed at scaling up the adoption of wind power in commercial seagoing operations.

The new agreement will help Wärtsilä promote projects using Norsepower’s Rotor Sail technology. In turn, Norsepower will have access to Wärtsilä’s high tech global service network.

Speaking of the transition from creeping to leaping, Norsepower’s Rotor Sails have only been installed on three vessels since the company launched in 2014. A fourth project is in the pipeline for 2020.

The new partnership could pick up the pace by more than a bit. Cargo ships are just part of the mix. The partners are also aiming at tankers, passenger ferries and cruise ships.

Cargo Shipping Gets Serious About Ditching Fossil Fuels

The new interest in wind power is part of a more  comprehensive transformation in the global cargo industry.

One company to watch is the ubiquitous global shipper Maersk. The company has a plan for  a net zero plan for carbon emissions, and a Pelican cargo vessel is already part of the Norsepower portfolio.

Part of the motivation is pure bottom line common sense. Technology improvements are leveling the energy playing field, enabling renewables to compete with fossil fuels in the marketplace.

Meanwhile, leading port cities like Los Angeles are tightening up their air pollution regulations, which helps nudge shippers along the zero carbon path.

The Port of Los Angeles has become a test bed for clean tech and CleanTechnica is checking in with them for more insights into the wind powered cargo shipping trend, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo: Wind power for cargo ships (Norsepower Maersk Pelican equipped with Rotor Sails courtesy of Wärtsilä via

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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