Cargill, the largest private company in America and the world’s largest agricultural shipping firm, has successfully completed its first voyage using wind-powered sails. The company aims to study how wind power can reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in the cargo shipping industry.
Cargill currently transports 225 million tons of dry bulk cargo annually on over 600 vessels. One of these cargo ships has been retrofitted with WindWings sails, specifically designed to decrease fuel usage and carbon emissions in shipping. The maritime industry is responsible for nearly 3% of global carbon emissions, largely due to its reliance on carbon-intensive bunkers. Moreover, over 80% of global merchandise trade by volume is transported by sea, resulting in the industry producing more than 830 million tonnes of carbon each year, equivalent to the emissions of 283 coal-fired power plants.
Environmentalists and investors have been pressuring the industry to expedite decarbonization efforts. Consequently, major players have been exploring alternative power sources to replace dirtier fuels. Cargill sees renewable wind power as a promising option. The company’s chartered vessel, the 80,000-ton Pyxis Ocean, recently completed a journey from China to Brazil using two WindWings sails. Mitsubishi Corporation’s shipping arm owns the ship, and the European Union has provided funding for the creation of the revolutionary sails.
The Pyxis Ocean is the world’s first cargo ship to be retrofitted with two 37.5-meter-high WindWings sails. When the ship is in port, the sails, made from the same material as wind turbines, fold down and open up once in open water. According to BAR Technologies, the designer of the sails, these enormous wings can reduce the ship’s fuel consumption by approximately 20%. This maiden voyage serves as an opportunity for Cargill to determine if reverting to traditional wind-powered transportation is a viable option for sea cargo. If successful, Cargill plans to install WindWings on ten more ships, as wind is a free and renewable energy source, according to Jan Dieleman, Cargill’s ocean transportation president.
Wind-powered sails are making a comeback in the shipping industry, although the transition is not occurring rapidly. The Pyxis Ocean joins a small fleet of only two dozen large commercial ships utilizing wind-assisted propulsion. Out of over 110,000 newly ordered vessels, less than 100 currently feature wind-assisted technology. However, if more ship owners, operators, and charterers opt for renewable energy to fuel their fleets, it could significantly contribute to cleaning up the shipping industry’s environmental impact.
Cargill, as America’s largest private firm by revenue, believes that this groundbreaking technology can reduce emissions and decarbonize bulk cargo by 30%. The company states that WindWings can be installed on both existing cargo ships and new constructions. According to Yara Marine Technologies, the manufacturer of the sails, giant crude carriers can accommodate up to six WindWings, resulting in greater fuel and carbon emission savings. If a vessel is powered by clean fuel, such as green methanol, the sails can reduce costs. Alternatively, if the cargo ship relies on fossil fuels, wind power can help decrease carbon emissions.
BAR Technologies estimates the fuel savings from installing WindWings as follows: one sail can save 1.5 tons of oil-derived fuel per day on an average route, two sails can save 1,095 tons per year (equivalent to 20% of what a Kamsarmax vessel consumes annually), and three sails on a Kamsarmax ship can save approximately 30 tons of fuel. Saving one ton of marine fossil fuel use is equivalent to reducing around three tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
These savings in CO2 emissions are crucial as the global shipping industry aims to achieve its ambitious targets. Like other industries, it must reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Other sectors within the maritime industry have been employing innovative technologies to reduce carbon emissions. In June, a Norwegian cruise line made headlines by launching the world’s most energy-efficient and first zero-emission cruise ship, which utilizes wind and solar power. Additionally, efforts are underway to explore the use of ammonia and hydrogen for clean shipping.
While wind-assisted propulsion technology may not have an immediate significant impact on cleaning up the sector, it is gaining traction. BAR Technologies and Yara Marine have another project underway to install WindWing sails on a different vessel. Cargill’s pioneering move aims to support its partners in the maritime industry as they transition towards a more sustainable future. As Dieleman stated, “We’re always used to going the shortest way… Now, you might want to go the way where there’s more wind.”