In a progressive move for the global shipping industry, the Pyxis Ocean, a cargo ship adorned with two expansive sails, has embarked on its inaugural journey. This venture sees the integration of “WindWings”, a potentially revolutionary technology aiming to reduce the shipping industry’s carbon footprint.
The voyage, spanning from China to Brazil, acts as the proving ground for these gigantic sails. Notably, this is the first instance where sails of this magnitude have been equipped to a cargo ship for real-world testing. Cargill, an American firm chartering the Pyxis Ocean, expressed its enthusiasm and anticipation for the results.
British company BAR Technologies, an offshoot from the 2017 UK contingent of the globally celebrated sailing contest – America’s Cup, or as some fondly refer to it, the ‘Formula One of the Seas’ – is the brain behind these rigid and foldable sails. Standing at an impressive height of 37.5 metres, these sails are constructed mainly from fibreglass, akin to the material used for wind turbine blades. These WindWings are not mere aesthetic enhancements but are engineered to significantly cut down carbon emissions. By augmenting the ship’s engines, they promise a reduction in diesel fuel consumption by a staggering 30%.
“When you factor in four such wings on a ship, the savings equate to six tonnes of fuel and a reduction of 20 tonnes of CO2 emissions daily. The potential impact is monumental,” highlighted John Cooper, the CEO of BAR Technologies, in a discussion with the BBC.
To put things into perspective, the shipping sector is responsible for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This figure surpasses the cumulative emissions of the entire aviation sector. The challenge lies in the fact that most contemporary ships are diesel-fueled, making decarbonization an uphill battle. Alternative solutions like hydrogen or battery power remain in their infancy.
The allure of the WindWings lies in their adaptability. Co-sponsored by the EU’s Horizon programme, they present a feasible solution for shipping corporations to revamp their current fleets, leading to immediate emission reductions. Dr Simon Bullock, a shipping expert from the University of Manchester, pointed out, “While the ultimate aim is to transition to zero-carbon fuels for all ships, in the interim, we must maximize efficiency for each voyage.”
In parallel, the winds of change are evident elsewhere. Oceanbird, a Swedish enterprise, recently initiated the creation of 40-metre tall sails weighing 200 metric tons. These sails are destined for the Wallenius Tirranna, a 14-year-old car carrier. Moreover, Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten unveiled designs for its maiden zero-emission, battery-powered ship. This innovative vessel will also feature three 40-metre sails layered with solar panels, slated for a 2030 launch.
For now, all eyes are on the Pyxis Ocean. Over its projected six-week journey, experts will meticulously evaluate the performance of its sails. The ambition? To refine and amplify this technology, benefiting not just the Cargill fleet but revolutionizing the shipping industry as we know it.