Wind propulsion

The climate emergency is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and the maritime industry has a vital role to play, not only because of its significant environmental impact but also due to its great technological potential.

Wind propulsion is a crucial solution to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry and contribute to the fight against climate change. Technological advances are a-plenty and offer excellent prospects. These solutions, including ours, allow the development of efficient and economical wind propulsion systems that can be used on a large array of ships.

In addition to contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, wind energy offers significant economic advantages by reducing fuel costs. In this perspective, deploying sustainable solutions for the maritime sector and responding to the environmental challenge is paramount.

Wind, free, unlimited and renewable energy

Wind is a renewable energy source, free and available everywhere. Today, it provides electricity to millions of homes and businesses. Technological advances have made it possible to develop more efficient and reliable wind turbines that can produce electricity even in low wind conditions.

In the maritime sector, wind propulsion gives a unique opportunity to meet the challenges of decarbonisation, international and European regulations, and the urgent calls from the public to reduce greenhouse gases. Also, with fluctuating fuel prices, ship owners seek solutions to change their propulsion systems and invest in decarbonised energy.

It is undeniable. The ships that cross our seas and oceans can be equipped with sails or wings, which use the force of the wind to propel them. This wind technology is beneficial for long crossings, where ships can take advantage of steady winds to sail at a lower cost. In addition, wind energy can be combined with other renewable sources, such as solar energy or alternative fuels, to create hybrid and sustainable energy systems.

Yes, the energy potential of wind is immense and is already playing a pivotal role in decarbonising the maritime sector.

Wind assisted ship propulsion (WASP), technologies available immediately

WASP have evolved considerably, offering promising solutions for reducing the carbon footprint of commercial vessels. For new constructions, rigid sail or wing technologies can be integrated from scratch to enable greener sailing. Soft sail and kite technologies can be installed on existing ships thanks to retrofitting.

Retrofit is crucial since alternative fuels are not immediately available at scale. The transition to these new energy sources – hydrogen or biofuels such as methanol – will take time and require considerable investments in manufacturing, infrastructure and logistics. Wind propulsion technologies offer an efficient and immediate transition solution without additional investments in infrastructure, logistics and manufacturing. Moreover, the cost of carbon emissions will be much higher for alternative fuels than for renewable solutions according to the “Well-to-Wake” criterion, which integrates all the emissions from their manufacture to their consumption.

Imagining a combination of wind technologies and new low-carbon fuels is a source of hope offering new responsible horizons for the maritime sector. But why wait?

Whether for retrofitting or new constructions, wind propulsion technologies offer an immediate solution, in line with the economic stakes of maritime actors and the climate emergency.

Shipowners ready to adopt wind technologies

Seawing on display at the Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha ‘K’ Line stand at Sea Japan in 2022. © Airseas

Under regulations and the associated financial penalties for non-compliance, shipowners are forced to look for decarbonisation solutions for their vessels. Many have already installed or are considering equipping their existing ships with wind propulsion technology or have chosen new constructions with rigid sails or wings.

There are many success stories in this area. The equipment manufacturer Norsepower, which manufactures “rotor” sails, has installed its technology on several ships, including a tanker owned by the Danish shipowner Maersk. The latter also announced in 2020 a partnership with a Swiss start-up to develop a sail-to-grid technology that will be tested on one of its ships. For its part, the French shipping company Neoline has developed a concept of a sailing cargo ship schedule for 2024, a project supported by the world’s third-largest shipowner CMA CGM, among others.

The sailor François Gabart has also launched a project to develop a direct line between Europe and the United States to transport goods by sail.

A sailing industry in the industrialisation phase

Wind propulsion represents a highly promising industrial sector, with key issues being the ability:

  • to meet the global demand,
  • to industrialize solutions,
  • to mobilize public and private investors for the mass production of these new innovative technologies with the development of new engineering fields and associated expertise.

The Velic Structuring Project works on identifying areas that could be pooled, such as research and development on new materials, safety and certification, the evolution of regulatory standards, the development of new machines for industrialization, common performance tool, etc.

The co-organization of the industry is critical to the success of wind propulsion, with the supply of wind-powered equipment, rising market demand and the challenges of swift decarbonisation.

Some of the representatives of the velic industry with the French Secretary of State for the Sea Hervé Berville. © Airseas

To sum up, the road to a decarbonised maritime sector has been mapped out. It is up to all public and private players to mobilize to accelerate the industrialisation of the wind energy sector and unlock its full environmental, economic and commercial potential.