Norsepower, a company that builds modernized sails to reduce fuel consumption and emissions on ships, got an order to install five of its Rotorsails on a bulk carrier in 2021. This is the first order for a bulk carrier, and the company’s sixth installation since founding in 2012.
Don’t expect to see cloth sails like an eighteenth century sailing ship, though. Norsepower’s Rotorsail technology uses a modernized version of the Flettner rotor, a spinning cylinder that uses the Magnus effect to harness wind power to thrust a ship. Even if the wind is coming from the side of the ship, or from other directions, the Rotorsail can still help push the ship forward.
“We are thrilled to be installing five tilting Rotor Sails onboard not only the first Norsepower newbuild order, but also the first bulk carrier. Installing the Rotor Sails on the first bulk carrier demonstrates that our technology is adaptable for both retrofits and newbuild vessels, and across varied operational profiles and vessel types,” said Tuomas Riski, CEO, Norsepower. “There is incredible value in using wind propulsion, particularly as it is a solution available now with proven results. We look forward to seeing the Rotor Sails in action next year.”
While installation plans are firm, the company that chose to adopt Rotorsails on a new ship prefers to remain anonymous at this time. More details should be available next year as installation time approaches.
The Rotorsail system is fully automated. It takes information from wind sensors and other ship data to determine when the Rotorsails would be able to actually make a difference and improve the ship’s fuel consumption. When conditions are right, they automatically turn on and start helping push the load. When conditions are not right, they turn off to not waste energy turning themselves.
Greenhouse gas emissions are a big part of the reason for shipbuilders and operators adopting the technology. While today’s shipping can’t rely on sailpower exclusively like it did historically, that wind power is still there and available for use. By combining the power of the ships’ massive combustion engines with a wind assist, the engines can use less fuel and emit less. Norsepower has been able to demonstrate savings of 5-20%, depending on conditions. More recent studies show improvements of up to 25%.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a United Nations agency, sets targets for emissions reductions from maritime shipping. Using 2008 emissions as a baseline, they are pushing for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions from shipping by 2050, with smaller targets by 2030. By retrofitting existing ships, they can remain in service for longer, as they will not need to be rebuilt or retired as quickly to meet climate goals. For new ships, it makes a lot of sense to “future proof” the ship with Rotorsail technology so it can have a longer design life.
The United Nations is involved in this issue because ship operators from different jurisdictions need a “level playing field” if anyone is going to meet emissions reduction targets. The easiest way to cut costs and take business from competitors is to cut corners, on emissions, engine, and fuel technology, and this usually means worse emissions. If all ships must meet the same rules, there won’t be temptation to cut those corners.
“International shipping transports more than 80 per cent of global trade to peoples and communities all over the world. Shipping is the most efficient and cost-effective method of international transportation for most goods; it provides a dependable, low-cost means of transporting goods globally, facilitating commerce and helping to create prosperity among nations and peoples.” the IMO says on its About page.
Shipping accounts for 2-3% of global emissions and is still growing. While more efficient pound-for-pound of cargo than many other methods for transporting goods (especially compared to planes), the sheer volume of goods makes shipping highly impactful. Because the world cannot go without this vital service, the only way to improve its contribution to greenhouse gases is by lowering emissions.
Beyond climate change, ships emit a far higher percentage of other pollutants. Ships account for 18-30% of all nitrogen oxides and 9% of sulphur oxides, which contribute to acid rain. Improved technology, like Rotorsails, can help reduce those emissions, especially when used in conjunction with better fuels with less sulphur content.
Image and video by Norsepower.