Hard, Round, Tiltable Sails Add Wind Power To Energy Efficient Shipping

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The firm Norsepower Oy Ltd has been trying to bring wind power back to the maritime shipping industry, in the form of sails that look like oversized smokestacks. The idea hasn’t quite caught on like hotcakes, but that could change in short order. A new agreement with the Nefco, the Nordic Green Bank, will enable Norsepower to ramp up production and bring its energy efficient technology to the seven seas, including passenger ships as well as cargo ships.

Modern Wind Power For The 21st Century Shipping Industry

Norsepower’s unusual take on wind power for modern maritime mobility is a far cry from the familiar sight of canvas sails flapping in the breeze. Even the high tech rigid sails of the yacht racing circuit look somewhat sail-like. Nevertheless, there it is. The company has developed a sail that looks like it should be belching smoke instead of deploying wind power.

If you’re wondering how it works, that’s a good question. Norsepower’s pipe-shaped Rotor Sail takes advantage of something called the Magnus effect, which refers to the pressure difference created when an object moves through air.

Students of soccer (sorry, football) may recognize this phenomenon as the thing that makes an expertly kicked ball bend around the legs of the opposing team like magic. It also occurs in baseball, tennis, ping-pong and just about any other sport in which a ball travels through air.

Here’s how it works in the Rotor Sail’s pipe-style architecture, as described by Norsepower:

“When wind meets the spinning Rotor Sail, the air flow accelerates on one side of the Rotor Sail and decelerates on the opposite side of the Rotor Sail. The change in the speed of air flow results in a pressure difference, which creates a lift force that is perpendicular to the wind flow direction.”

Norsepower notes that the inner workings are based on the Flettner Rotor, a technology attributed to the early 20th century Finnish engineer Sigurd Savonius. Anton Flettner took charge of the name after demonstrating the device during an Atlantic crossing back in 1926.

Describing the Flettner Rotor at work, Ajay Menon of Marine Insight notes that “…rotor sails are powered by small motors that are located within the hull, while the rotors themselves project vertically upwards for propulsion. As they rotate, the Magnus effect comes into play, and a horizontal thrust is generated to the aft [that’s the rear] of the vessel. The main source of energy is the motors that power the rotors, while the output is provided by the relative motion of the surrounding air.”

Wind Power & Energy Efficiency

It took almost 100 years for rotor sail technology to come close to commercial development, but Norsepower’s wind power solution finally crossed the CleanTechnica radar in 2015, when we took note of the energy efficiency angle.

“In favorable wind conditions, Norsepower Rotor Sails allow the vessel to throttle back the main engines, supplying the power needed to maintain speed and voyage time while reducing fuel and emissions,” we enthused.”Rotor Sails can be installed on new vessels or retrofitted on existing ships without requiring the vessel—a potentially multi-million-dollar asset—to be out of service, known as off-hire.”

Over the next few years the Norsepower name popped up whenever the topic turned to odd-looking wind-harvesting devices or wind-powered cargo ships, but the really big news occurred just two years ago, when Norsepower reminded everyone that its Rotor Sails can tilt into a horizontal position at the touch of a button.

That’s important because, as a retrofit, the new sails will not prevent a vessel from going under bridges that it could previously navigate.

More Wind Power For Cleaner Shipping

So, it seems like you can have your energy efficient wind power cake and eat it, too.

“Based on global wind statistics, the available effective power delivered by the Rotor Sails is deducted from the main engine power per specific DWT and Vref speed,” Norsepower explains. “The improvement in the EEDI [Energy Efficiency Design Index] rating achieved can reach up to 20% for suitable Rotor Sail arrangements and optimal configuration on a ship.”

Even without the skyrocketing cost of fuel, Norsepower notes that the savings in greenhouse gas emissions is a plus for stakeholders committed to hitting industry-wide planet-saving targets.

“To meet the International Maritime Organisation’s 2030 and 2050 carbon reduction targets as well as longer-term global zero carbon shipping goals, shipowners can invest in green ship technology to reduce their emissions. The technology is available on the market today and delivers proven results,” Norsepower explains, adding that its wind power technology contributes to “the reduction of GHG and other emissions such as SOx, NOx, PM from ships, as each Rotor Sail in operation directly replaces the main propulsion power that is typically derived from fossil fuels.

In a press release earlier this month, Norsepower CEO Tuomas Riski also reminded stakeholders that the company’s wind power technology would help meet the goals of two new climate related indexes under the International Maritime Organisation, those being the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index and the Carbon Intensity Indicator. Both of these initiatives will take effect at the beginning of next year, which is right around the corner.

What’s Next For Norsepower

Stakeholders eager to lay hands on a Rotor Sail or two won’t have much longer to wait. The new agreement with Nefco will enable Norsepower to speed up its plans for production at facilities located in Asia.

The arrangement is supported by a feasibility study produced by Nefco’s Nordic Project Fund, which aims to expand the international footprint of Norway’s small- and medium-sized businesses.

“This loan agreement is a culmination of our fruitful cooperation with Norsepower. Norsepower’s modern sail technology is fascinating, and it offers one solution for the shipping industry that faces increasing cost and environmental constraints,” said Nefco Investment Director Helena Lähteenmäki.

Meanwhile, Norsepower is busy with its next wind power retrofit, which will go to the global logistics firm CLdN for a vessel named MV Delphine, which was built in 2018.

This is one is sure the catch the eye of shippers everywhere. The MV Delphine is not just any old vessel.

“The MV Delphine, a vessel with a cargo capacity of close to 8,000 lane meters, transits between the UK, Ireland and Europe and is the largest short sea Ro-Ro vessel operating in the world today,” Norsepower explains. “With two 35mx5m Rotor Sails, Norsepower has estimated that the technology would achieve a fuel and emission reduction saving of between 7 to 10% for this vessel, depending on the route.”

Now that Russia has tried (and so far, failed) to hold the global fuel and food supply hostage through war crimes and state-based terrorism, all the more reason for the global shipping industry to shake off as much of the fossil energy chain as it can.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: wind power for energy efficient shipping courtesy of Norsepower.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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