Shipping has long been the backbone of international trade, but the environmental cost of transporting goods across the oceans is high. Today, the majority of large vessels are powered by fossil fuels, contributing to carbon emissions and leaving a lasting impact on the environment. To address this issue, scientists are now retrofitting cargo ships with ultramodern sails to harness the power of the wind and reduce carbon emissions.
A research initiative led by the University of Southampton has received funding from Innovate UK to investigate the potential of wind-assist technology as part of efforts to decarbonise the UK’s maritime sector. The project aims to retrofit large commercial vessels with FastRig wing-sails, developed by UK-based Smart Green Shipping, and create new software tools that predict how modern vessels perform on the ocean when fitted with this technology.
Driving Clean Maritime Equipment
The Winds of Change project is a collaboration between Southampton and Smart Green Shipping, with grants provided by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK. The two-year development program will test the impact of a retractable 20-meter-high wing-sail retrofitted on a commercial ship, the Pacific Grebe - a British 105-meter vessel. The researchers will investigate the complex interactions between the wing-sails and the ship hydrodynamics, enabling accurate predictions of vessel performance, which will be compared to the demonstration vessel Pacific Grebe as part of the project.
Dr Joseph Banks, the lead scientist from Southampton’s Marine and Maritime Institute, emphasizes the importance of decarbonising global shipping, saying that "ships powered by wind are obviously nothing new, but almost every large vessel operating today is powered by fossil fuels, leaving a lasting mark on the environment. While new wind-assist technologies are being developed, many are not ready for market, and their predicted fuel savings have not been independently verified at sea, which is why UK-funded research projects like this are so important.”
FastRig wing-sails have already been installed on smaller vessels, and the research team will investigate their performance when fitted to larger, modern vessels. They hope their new tool, which predicts the fuel savings delivered by the wing-sails, will drive further investment in the UK’s marine technology sector and encourage the next generation to pursue a career in Maritime Engineering.
The Future of Shipping
Diane Gilpin, CEO of Smart Green Shipping, believes that wind power harnessed using sophisticated digital software and well-engineered equipment is the fastest way for the shipping sector to reduce fuel consumption and related emissions. She adds: “I’m thrilled that the UK is demonstrating ongoing faith in our FastRig technology, which holds the key to rapidly reducing emissions from shipping. Climate science is clear that shipping must rapidly reduce emissions in the short term.”
The initiative by the University of Southampton and Smart Green Shipping could signal a major shift towards a more sustainable future for the shipping industry. Retrofitting existing vessels with modern sails may quickly reduce emissions, and decarbonising the industry will improve air quality in port towns and cities and protect ocean environments from harm.