China is set to play a key role in commercialising technology that harnesses the wind to help propel cargo ships as the global shipping industry faces pressure to slash its carbon footprint, according to industry executives.
The nation’s established supply chain, offshore engineering capabilities and cost competitiveness put it in a strong position to manufacture and install the efficiency-enhancing equipment, known as wind-assisted propulsion, in both new vessels and existing fleets, said John Cooper, CEO of BAR Technologies.
“China, without doubt, is the shipping mecca of the world, and therefore we are concentrating our efforts there,” Cooper said.
Shipping accounts for around 3 per cent of global carbon emissions, according to the International Maritime Organisation, a United Nations agency responsible for regulating shipping.
In July the IMO upgraded the global industry’s climate ambitions, committing its 175 member nations to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It also aims to slash emissions per unit of transport work by at least 40 per cent by 2030, compared with 2008 levels, and to boost the industry’s uptake of fuels that emit zero or near-zero greenhouse gasses to at least 5 per cent by 2030.
Portsmouth, UK-based BAR is actively seeking manufacturing partners to scale up production of its patented WindWings system, which features multiple automated sails made of steel and composite materials and measuring 37.5 metres high and 20 metres wide.
The company’s subcontractors include composite material maker Zhongfu Lianzhong Composites Group and hydraulic cylinder supplier Hengli Hydraulics, both based in Jiangsu province.
As a big shipowner and builder, China, which is aiming to hit peak carbon emissions before 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060, is a key market for wind-assisted propulsion technology, Cooper said.
China last year overtook Greece as the owner of the largest shipping fleet in terms of gross tonnage, with a global market share of 15.9 per cent, according to Clarksons Research. China has also been the world’s leading investor in shipbuilding for four consecutive years, the researcher said in August.
The WindWings system can save up to 1.5 tonnes of fuel per sail per day, reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 4.9 tonnes on average global routes without reducing speed, Cooper said.
The global average price of marine gas oil, the diesel fuel used in seagoing vessels, stood at US$967 per tonne on Monday.
Due to wind variability, data on fuel savings is not yet available, Cooper said, adding that the company will publish such data when it is available based on actual voyages on specific shipping routes.
The system can produce fuel savings of up to 30 per cent when combined with the installation of a shaft generator and the use of routing-optimisation software, said James Marshall, CEO of Berge Bulk, which retrofitted its Berge Olympus bulk carrier with four WindWings sails.
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Shipping accounts for around 3 per cent of global carbon emissions, according to the International Maritime Organisation. Photo: AFP
A shaft generator produces electricity from the rotation of the vessel’s diesel engine-driven propeller shaft, which reduces the need to run the ship’s fossil fuel-powered auxiliary generator to power equipment including the WindWings system.
Singapore-based Berge Bulk owns 85 vessels with a total carrying capacity of 14.5 million deadweight tonnes, making it one of the world’s largest dry bulk fleet owners.
The company has pledged to invest US$1 billion on decarbonising its fleet over the next five years, to start adopting zero-emission fuels no later than 2030 and to have its entire fleet running on such fuels by 2050.
“The new fuels are going to be extremely expensive initially, making the business case for adopting WindWings and other fuel efficiency-enhancing shipping technologies compelling,” Marshall said.
Dozens of companies have entered the wind-assisted propulsion business, according to the International Windship Association. France’s Zephyr & Boree, Sweden’s Oceanbird and China’s Dealfeng New Energy Technology are in various stages of commercialisation.
Tianjin-based Dealfeng last month said it has developed rotor sails that can reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions by 5 to 25 per cent depending on wind conditions.
It plans to work together with Offshore Oil Engineering, a unit of state-owned energy firm China National Offshore Oil, to install two 18-metre by 4-metre rotor sails on the latter’s heavy load carrier by the end of the year in what will be China’s first commercial wind power-assisted propulsion project.
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