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Wing-like rigid sails are leaping from the rarified world of yacht racing to the backs of cargo ships (photo via Cision PR Newswire).

Clean Power

High-Tech Hard Sails Transform Old Cargo Ships Into Racing Yachts

Wing-like rigid sails are leaping from the rarified world of yacht racing to the backs of cargo ships.

There they go again. The firm BAR Technologies has roots in the elite environment of the America’s Cup hyper-competitive racing series, and lately it has been applying its know-how to design rigid sails for cargo ships. That’s right, wind power is making a comeback on the high seas, and the global shipping industry is down for it. Well, beginning to be down for it. Rigid sails for cargo ships are still in the tryout phase, but that could change as Russia continues to pinch the global fuel supply and climate goals kick in.

Berge Bulk Cargo Ship Catches Hard Sails Fever

BAR hooked up with Yara Marine Technologies a while back to bring its “WindWings” rigid sail technology to cargo ships. The latest shipper to take a look is Berge Bulk, which describes itself as “one of the world’s leading independent dry bulk owners with an outstanding reputation for the safe, efficient, and sustainable delivery of commodities around the world.”

“Berge Bulk is a young and dynamic company with a strong commitment to innovative growth and development. It has committed to be carbon neutral by 2025 at the latest,” they add.

The Berge Bulk fleet of  more than 80 cargo ships is pint-sized compared to industry giants like Maersk, which counts more than 708 vessels on its roster.

Still, the Berge stable does include some of the biggest cargo ships roaming the seas today. The plan is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the Berge Olympus, a 210 DWT (deadweight tonnage) bulk carrier by up to 30%.

That’s pretty impressive for a quick retrofit. Part of the savings will come from the rigid sails, and some will come from optimizing the ship’s route. If the new contract with BAR and Yara satisfies Berge, the company could have an outsized impact on the global industry.

“This contract strengthens Berge Bulk’s commitment to pioneer the shipping industry’s decarbonisation journey. They will be an early adopter of wind-assisted propulsion technology, evaluating a pivotal technology to reduce the emissions of its bulker fleet,” Yara and BAR explained in a joint press release earlier this week.

More WindWings In The Works For Cargo Ships

It seems that things are happening quickly in the rigid sails area. The Berge Olympus is actually the second installation for BAR and Yara. The partners are still hammering away at their first commercial installation for cargo ships, in collaboration with Cargill and Mitsubishi Corporation’s MC Shipping Ltd. Singapore Branch.

The initial effort involves Mitsubishi’s, Pyxis Ocean, a 5-year-old bulk carrier, which is on track to deploy a few months before the Olympus next year. That’s not as simple as it may sound. The effort has involved  “a multitude of industry players across design, funding, provision, installation, chartering, and operation,” as described by BAR, exemplifying “the kind of collaboration needed in the shipping industry to get the energy transition up to speed.”

“Two WindWings will be delivered by Yara Marine Technologies and installed on the Pyxis Ocean­, with one of those wings funded by the European Union as part of EU Horizon 2020 Project CHEK, dedicated to demonstrating solutions for decarbonising international shipping,” they add.

“Collaboration across the maritime supply chain is critical for the effective deployment of emissions reduction solutions,” emphasized  Jan Dieleman, who is the president of Cargill’s Ocean Transportation division. “Cargill and MC Shipping are working together to bridge the gap between shipowner and charterer, with a desire to implement technologies that will benefit not just both parties, but the industry and the planet at large.”

The Cargill Angle On Cargo Ships

Yara and Mitsubishi have popped up on the CleanTechnica radar now and then, most recently for their involvement in the green ammonia and green hydrogen areas. We don’t hear much from Cargill in the clean energy field over here, but as a stakeholder in the global shipping industry it appears it is angling to be part of the solution.

Cargill and BAR first hooked up back in October of 2020 with the naval architect Deltamarin Finland.

“Through this partnership, we will bring bespoke wind solutions to customers who are actively seeking to reduce CO2 emissions from their supply chain,” explained Jan Dieleman, who is the president of Cargill’s Ocean Transportation branch. “Changing regulations and uncertainty about future greener marine fuels makes choosing the right vessel to charter with a long-term view complicated.”

“With the WindWings technology, Cargill will be able to offer customers a solution that improves vessel efficiency, independent of the fuel or type of engine used,” he added.

As noted by BAR, Cargill is a force to be reckoned with. The company’s chartered fleet routinely tops 600 vessels, which puts it on the spot as the maritime industry struggles to reduce emissions from cargo ships.

Cargill appears to be making the most of its new status as a clean tech influencer. As of 2020 the company was engaged with the Getting To Zero Coalition of the Global Maritime Forum, the Sea Cargo Charter, and the Maersk McKinney Moller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping, along with a collaboration with Maersk Tankers and Mitsui & Co. aimed at reducing emissions.

Hard Sails Work Harder

Hard sails, aka wingsails or rigid wings, are not a new concept, but thanks to BAR and other cutting edge racing yacht engineers they have earned a high profile in recent years.

As for how it works, the organization American Sailing provides this quick take:

“A sail, after all, in its purest form is essentially a wing. So, through the decades, many designers, looking for optimum performance, have of course instituted rigid wings (just like that of an airplane).

[snip]

“The efficiency of a hard wing has never been in question. They sail upwind higher and reach faster. Their purity of engineering allows for maximum proficiency.”

American Sailing also points out that fabric sails are difficult to manage, compared to hard sails. “In many ways, a conventional sailboat rig is fighting against itself to do what it’s meant to do,” they observe somewhat dramatically. “Shrouds and stays are battling to keep everything in place while a sailor adjusts control lines incessantly.”

They also note that hard sails could be difficult to adjust when the wind picks up, and difficult to stow when not in use. However, firms like BAR are already on the case with automatic controls, folding wings, and a tiltable feature that lays the sail flat on deck.

“…and, for the traditionalists, where’s the romance in a big airplane wing sticking up from the front of the boat?” American Sailing finally asks. That question is fair enough in the yacht racing circuit, but in the area of commerce, the romance ship sailed when fossil energy entered the maritime picture.

At least hard sails vaguely resemble a sail. We’re also keeping an eye on rotor sails for cargo ships, which are tall cylinders that look like smokestacks but function as wind energy harvesting devices.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Hard sails to harvest wind power and reduce emissions for cargo ships via Cision PR Newswire.

 
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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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