Bound4blue: Wind-Powered Wingsails for a Greener Shipping Industry

The impact of global shipping is huge, and we’ve previously written numerous times about both the impact and the upcoming much-needed crackdown on emissions in 2025.

Autor*in Tristan Rayner, 08.13.19

Translation Tristan Rayner:

The impact of global shipping is huge, and we’ve previously written numerous times about both the impact and the upcoming much-needed crackdown on emissions in 2025.

The numbers are startling. According to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, the global shipping industry generates more than one billion tons of carbon a year, equating to around two to three per cent of global totals. In addition to carbon, vessels use cheap and dirty ‘bunker’ fuel for their engine propulsion, emitting significant pollutants including NOx and SOx. And, none of these emissions are subject to international treaties on climate change – such as the Paris Agreements – due to the international nature of the industry.

Solutions to this problem would be welcomed by the industry. Currently, up to around 80 per cent of the cost of shipping can be in the fuel usage.

We’ve previously written about new ideas to help improve efficiency, including using high-tech rotary sails to help propel ships at sea, reducing fuel requirements, and being trialled by shipping super heavyweight Maersk. Former Airbus engineers have also been working on a new kite for ships, with a sail more than 1,000 square metres in size aiming to help tow ships.

Another idea is currently being spearheaded by Spanish company bound4blue, whose idea sees them taking wing-shaped structures similar to aircraft wings and attaching them vertically to the top of ships. Bound4blue, founded by three aeronautical engineers, is calling these smart structures “wingsails” and they can be retrofitted to vessels of all sizes to provide effective thrust from ocean winds, reducing engine power requirements. Bound4blue claim the tech is currently “delivering fuel consumption and pollutant emissions reductions of up to 40%.”

Rigid wingsails have already proven themselves, with racing yachts proving out aerodynamic advantages over recent decades, while motorsports use similar concepts to provide downforce. What is new is that wingsails that can be adapted without significant costs, and still allow for rapid loading and unloading of cargo without interference – and without reducing overall cargo volume.

Given the claimed 40 percent improvements, this technology could be a complete gamechanger, so the significant promise that it provides the industry cannot be ignored. Further difficulties come in adapting the technology to maritime conditions, though. Rough waves, seawater, and winds are not known for being kind. However, the wingsails have been adapted to fold down to tuck away in rough conditions, with automated operation, and they rotate to face prevailing winds to generate thrust.

So what’s the catch? The company claims a payback period of five years, so it’s not costs per se. It may just be timing. The concept is still in the early development stages and it may take a while for it to achieve a real impact on the industry. The company is now working on a real-scale implementation on three vessels of varying sizes, ramping up in size each time, starting with a 20m wingsail on a fishing vessel, a second wingsail on a merchant vessel and a third installation on a bulk carrier. In a recent interview, COO and co-founder Cristina Aleixendri Muñoz, said that by 2025, the company expects to “execute more than 100 projects per year.”

Clean technologies that also happen to save people money in the long term can lead to dramatic and rapid change. Let’s hope that bound4blue’s innovation – and others like it – will soon be used by many shipowners not only wanting to reduce their fuel-related costs, but their pollutant emissions too.

Creating Blue Energy: Stanford University Harnesses the Power of Salt and Water With New Battery

So-called "blue energy" has previously been branded too expensive for practical use. However, a new process - with no moving parts - could see its start-up costs plummet.

Shore to Ship: Why a Cleaner Power Supply Is Urgently Needed to Solve Bunker Fuel Woes

The world of marine transportation relies heavily on enormous ships, from cruise liners to containers to giant tankers. One thing each has in common is the use of some of the lowest-quality fuel in the world - bunker fuel - to take them from port to port.

“Sail to the COP”: Boating From Amsterdam to Chile on a Mission to Change the Future of Travel

One group of ambitious European travellers want to set an example to all of the world leaders heading to the UN's Climate Change conference in Chile in December 2019 - by turning their back on the aeroplane and taking a two-month boat trip instead.

The Ocean Cleanup Project Has Hit a Snag. What Do We Do Now?

An ambitious bid to scoop plastic out of the ocean with a giant net seems to be proof of the old adage that in theory there is no difference between theory and practice - but, in practice, there is.

The Sails Making a Comeback to Clean Up the Shipping Industry (This Time They’re Cylindrical and They Spin)

Having dominated the high seas for centuries, the humble sail could be making a return - although not quite as you remember it.

The Simple Device Looking to Save Sea Mammals from Nets – and Make Fishermen More Money

A simple, small and cheap device could help thousands of dolphins and whales from falling prey to large scale fishing nets.

WasteSharks: How Floating Drones Are Helping Clean up Our Seas

Not only can drones fly, some can also swim. One drone, the WasteShark, which is currently on the move in the ports of Rotterdam and Dubai, even collects garbage.

Solubag – the Soluble Solution For Plastic Bags in the Sea?

A company in Chile has developed a bag that dissolves in water within five minutes. Could this mean the end of the billions of plastic packages that end up in our seas every year?

This Gigantic Litter-Picking Ship Wants to Rid the Seas of Plastic

Microplastics are a threat to humans and the environment. One Swiss sailor has invented a boat that can fish plastic out of the sea before it breaks down into the dangerous particles.