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Wind power comes back to the shipping industry, but these "sails" are different than any others (image by Norsepower via YouTube,

Clean Power

And Now For Something Completely Different: Wind Power That Tilts

Wind power comes back to the shipping industry, with spinning “sails” that can duck under low bridges and power lines, too.

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, along comes the Finnish company Norsepower with an idea whose time has come: tiltable sails. And why? Well, the dream of powering cargo ships the old fashioned way is nice enough, but getting those sails to dip under bridges and snap back up again is a whole ‘nother can of worms.

wind power sails cargo ships

Wind power comes back to the shipping industry, but these “sails” are different than any others (image by Norsepower via YouTube).

Wind Power That Tilts!

So, Norsepower. This company made a little splash on the CleanTechnica radar back in 2017, when we were looking at kite-based wind power technology and then something about “spinning sails” caught our eye.

Then, last October we were taking stock of a wind power renaissance in the cargo ship area when all of a sudden Norsepower popped up again, this time in connection with the leading energy and marine operations firm Wärtsilä:

“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.”

Interesting! As of last year, though, Rotor Sails had been installed on only three vessels in five years, so it’s about time for Norsepower to pick up the pace — and it looks like they’re doing just that, only now it tilts.

The word “sail” is used loosely in this context. Norsepower’s Rotor Sails look nothing like sails or, for that matter, wind turbines. As a matter of fact, they look like smokestacks, only with no smoke.

Tiltable Wind Power For The Green Cargo Ship Of The Future — & What Is A Ro-Ro?

That brings us up to the latest news from Norsepower. Earlier this week the company announced a Rotor Sail installation agreement with Sea-Cargo, which happens to be a top North Sea logistics firm.

That certainly steps things up, though the scale of the operation is still on the small side. The agreement calls for two Rotor Sails to be installed on a single cargo vessel named SC Connector, sometime before the end of this year.

However, if all goes according to plan, the installation could lead to bigger things. The aim is to demonstrate how Norsepower’s wind power technology can be retrofitted onto existing ships (SC Connector is a twenty-something, btw) and tailored to fit specific circumstances, which in this case would mean conditions in the North Sea.

If our friends over at Vessel Tracker are correct, as of this moment the SC Connector is right in the neighborhood. She is heading to the port of Sunndalsøra in Norway at a speed of 13.4 knots and should get there by Thursday evening if you would like to go down and say hello.

As for Ro-Ro, SC Connector is something called a Ro-Ro, which is cargospeak for ships that specialize in roll-on/roll-off goods such as cars and the like.

How Does It Work?

The SC Connector was selected for the first-of-its-kind installation because the Rotor Sail optimizes wind conditions in the North Sea, and the ship’s route takes it under power lines as well as several bridges.

The two sails are each 35 meters high and 5 meters wide, so there will be a lot of tilting going on. However, Norsepower’s use of lightweight, composite cylinder materials should ease some of the mechanical burden on the operation.

As for what the Rotor Sail is, Norsepower explains that it is a “modernised version of the Flettner rotor, a spinning cylinder that uses the Magnus effect to harness wind power to thrust a ship.”

That’s literally what it is: a vertical cylinder that spins. Unlike a conventional sail or wind turbine it needs a power input, which makes it spin. That need for juice may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but the Magnus effect enables Flettner rotors to create thrust, which more than offsets the energy they consume.

According to Norsepower, the SC Connector should be able to reduce its carbon emissions by 25% after the Rotor Sails are installed. Sea Cargo also anticipates that vessel can run on wind power alone when conditions are ideal.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Magnus effect refers to what happens when a spinning object moves through air. It exerts force on the air, which explains why soccer balls and baseballs can be made to bend or break.

The basic Flettner sail technology can also be applied to things that roll, and as a matter of fact you can make your own wind-powered cart at home.

Tiltable Or Not, Decarbonizing The Shipping Industry

Another element that could help Norsepower kick things up a notch is its relationship with the global shipping giant Maersk.

Back in 2018, one of those three aforementioned Rotor Sail installations went onto the deck of a vessel named Maersk Pelican, and the results are in.

On board the Maersk Pelican, two Rotor Sails plied the waters of Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia in conditions ranging from tropical to arctic. In a 12-month span ending on September 2019, the sails provided an aggregated fuel savings of 8.2%.

That’s not quite hit-you-over-the-head energy saving news, but it does amount to a substantial savings over time. It could also help take a bite out of the 30% fuel saving Maersk has targeted by next year.

In assessing the technology last year, Maersk did not commit to buying up more Rotor Sails. However, it did affirm that wind power is among the pathways it is exploring for quick decarbonization. Apparently the company is waiting to see how the financials work out, and the new tilt-able version could motivate it to take a another look at wind power.

One thing Maersk might consider is applying Rotor Sails to particular shipping routes, because the 12-month trial indicates that optimal wind conditions make a significant difference in fuel savings. The Maersk Pelican far exceeded the 8.2% aggregate on routes with more favorable wind conditions.

Meanwhile, our friends over at Supply Chain Digest have the scoop on a new project that could help speed the decarbonization along.

The global shipping industry is currently hunkering down in survival mode under the COVID-19 crisis, which means substantial investments in new, unproven technologies are unlikely over the short term. However, just last week Maersk and several other companies launched a new clean tech research center aimed at reducing carbon emissions over the long run.

“The new center will go by name of the Maersk McKinney Moller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping, made possible by a start-up donation of $60 million by the A.P. Moller Foundation,” explains SCG.

ABS, A.P. Moller Maersk, Cargill, MAN Energy Solutions, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, NYK Line and Siemens Energy are also in on the project.

SCG also notes something that went over our heads. The global shipping industry was not directly addressed by the Paris Agreement, partly because the emissions from oceangoing vessels are difficult to attribute to one country or another. Still, the industry is aiming at a 40% cut by 2030, so stay tuned for more on that.

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Image (screenshot): Tilt-able Rotor Sails by Norsepower via YouTube.

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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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