Huge polluters of the seas: how Oceanbird wants to make container ships clean

Maxence Glineur

May 27, 2023 at 10:15 a.m.


oceanbird 2 © © Oceanbird

© Oceanbird

For the Swedish company, the solution to refresh the sector is as classic as it is innovative. She wants to equip ships with… sails.

More and more players are seeking to position themselves in this niche, which seems obvious to them despite the frantic pace of globalization which has had a profound impact on humanity for several decades.

Sails of gargantuan proportions

Maritime transport moves around 90% of the world’s goods, most often using huge diesel engines. As a result, the sector currently burns 300 million tonnes of fossil fuels per year, a figure that will double or even triple by 2050. This is why the International Maritime Organization has set itself the goal of drastically reducing its emissions. for the next two decades, like many other industries.

Nothing less was needed to launch industrialists into the battle. This is the case of Oceanbird, a research project launched in 2010 within Wallenius Marine, a Swedish shipbuilding giant, before becoming a commercial entity in its own right. His area of ​​expertise? Design and produce boat sails.

But not just any. Baptized ” wingsail », they consist of a main sail and a flap, and are inspired by the systems that already equip high-performance racing sailboats. The latest model announced by Oceanbird, the Wing 560, will be 40 meters high, weigh no less than 200 tons and have a surface area of ​​560 square meters.

oceanbird 3 © © Oceanbird

© Oceanbird

With such figures, this sail is obviously not intended to equip the first yacht that comes along. After full-scale tests on the ground this summer, a Wing 560 should be installed next year on a car transporter that has been in service for 14 years, with the aim of reducing its average fuel consumption by around 10 %.

Trade routes already carved out for sailboats?

However, Oceanbird’s goal is not just to equip all old transport ships. First, not all can accommodate such sails, such as container ships that carry their goods on deck and therefore lack the space required. Second, fuel consumption can be significantly reduced by building new freighters specifically designed to operate with these sails.

This is why Oceanbird has already carried out the plans for the Orcelle Wind, a carrier capable of carrying 7,000 cars and consuming 60% less diesel than a ship of the same capacity. Not to mention the possible optimizations of routes and cruising speed, which could result in a reduction in consumption of up to 90%.

© Oceanbird

For Christiaan De Beukelaer, lecturer in culture and climate at the University of Melbourne, the concept is absolutely not disconnected from reality. ” Most of the major trade routes we travel around the world still correspond quite well to the trade winds of yesteryear “, he says. He adds : ” The main trade connections and ports were created when we only used sails. This is where big cities and powerful economies have developed. To a large extent, these connections are therefore still well served by the winds. »

Times have changed, however, and today shipping passes massively through what De Beukelaer calls choke points, namely the Suez and Panama Canals. ” None of them allow ships to sail. The Panama Canal is also crossed by a bridge whose height is limited to about 50 meters “, he explains.

However, this should not hinder the adoption of new (or old) concepts such as Oceanbird sails, given the continuous rise in the cost of fossil fuels and the still insufficient production of less polluting fuels such as methanol or l ‘ammonia. And all this without taking into account the increasingly pressing and radical international targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

Sources: Wired, Offshore Energy

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