Could Shipping Return To Wind Power?

By Mike Clift | September 20, 2019

The Magnus Mechanical, Hi-Tech Sail

The Magnuss Mechanical, Hi-Tech Sail

Long ago, it was the power of the wind that drove the ships plying the world’s oceans, carrying people and goods to far flung places. An immense pool of free, natural energy up for grabs by anybody who could efficiently harness it. Over time, it was found more convenient to replace wind power with the burning of fossil fuels to power our ships.

We now find ourselves in times of great concern over environmental impact; facing the prospect of supplies of oil and other natural resources becoming scarcer. It makes sense to look at alternative sources of power for the shipping industry and should come as no surprise that designers, engineers and scientists are looking once more to the power of the wind for inspiration.

Once such concept is the Magnuss vertical, rotor sail.

James Rhodes, CEO at ‘Unreasonable Impact’ describing the Magnuss Sail

What can mariners expect from the ships of the future?

One thing is almost certain. Soon enough, large ships in their current form are going to have to give way to an environmentally friendlier and economically more viable substitute. But what form might this new breed of cruise liners and cargo ships take? Can mariners expect more pleasant and quieter working conditions as a result?

There is a firm belief among many experts that, with battery systems capable of storing the excess power generated by rotor sails and solar panels, future designs of ship will be capable of running entirely on renewable energy.

In the same way that petrol and diesel driven cars are slowly giving way to electric models, so the same could happen in the shipping industry. This would invariably lead to quieter ships with negligible levels of engine noise and vibration when compared with present day vessels.

One obstacle to the use of devices such as Magnuss Rotors on the decks of cargo ships has been the obstruction they might cause to cranes. However, the Magnuss design now allows it to be withdrawn inside the hull so as to allow the free loading and unloading of containers and other goods.

Eco Flettner Rotors

There are also new proposals for ship design in the “short sea” trade sector. As world fuel prices rise and environmental issues loom larger, so the prospect of these new designs become all the more attractive. Cruise and shipping companies will likely be motivated to adopt greener designs to save money, to attract environmentally conscious partners and customers and to qualify for government incentives.

Eco Flettner rotors have a high rotational speed and are able to benefit from a broader range of wind speeds. The early generations of such craft are likely to be hybrids where fuel consumption and harmful omissions are kept to a minimum. Later designs, as the technology matures, will aim to replace fossil fuels entirely.

A new generation of motor-rotor-sailing ships.

Combination Solar Panel Sails

Another approach to eliminating the use of fossil fuels for powering power ships is a combined sail and solar panel design. This concept makes use of rigid, computer controlled sails that are shrouded in solar panels. This is an interesting approach that makes maximum use of the the available surface area of the power generating mechanism.

These sails were developed by Japanese renewable energy systems company Eco Marine Power (EMP). This build is just one element of a larger initiative known as the “Aquarius Marine Renewable Energy Project”.

Combination Solar Panel Sails

Early success with such designs will help lead others in following suit, more confident in the knowledge that this approach to powering ships can really work.

It would be an impressive sight to see these innovative ships sailing the world's oceans with their noticeable adaptions for making use of the unlimited, natural power of the sun and wind.

On board batteries would store excess energy generated by natural forces to power these ships at times when the wind has dropped. These ingenious systems would also be capable of generating and storing power while at anchor or in port.

Only time will tell as to whether or not the shipping industry will return to harnessing the power of the wind. With current pressures on ship owners to find alternatives to fossil fuel, maybe we shouldn't write this idea off too quickly.

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About The Author

Mike Clift
Director

Mike is a Senior Trainer at Seahaven Maritime Academy. He has many years of professional experience within the Maritime Industry and has an excellent reputation for teaching. He has a real care for the training process and is dedicated to providing his students with a positive and meaningful training experience.


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