Airbus said it expects the device to improve fuel economy by 20% ©Airbus
Airbus said it expects the device to improve fuel economy by 20% ©Airbus

Airbus to use sails to cut shipping emissions

10 September 2018

Airbus has announced it will attach sails to one of its transport ships to increase fuel efficiency.

The aerospace manufacturer has ordered parafoil sails, called SeaWing, for one of its three roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) vessels used to move large aircraft parts between production sites in Europe and the US.

The device will be fitted to the vessel Ville de Bordeaux by the end of 2020. Airbus said it expects the device to improve fuel economy by 20% while reducing the firm’s overall emissions by 8,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

The kite-like device will fly from a cable attached to the front of the ship and will help “tow” the craft. It is able to autonomously deploy, operate and retract itself though a single switch, and it can collect and analyse meteorological data in real time to improve performance.

The modular device can be retrofitted to commercial ships during a regular stopover, Airbus said.

SeaWing was developed by the firm AirSeas. The firm was founded by Airbus employees, and Airbus owns 13% of the firm and is part of the board of directors.

Vincent Bernatets, founder and CEO of AirSeas and a former Airbus employee, said: “We are very proud that Airbus has confirmed its confidence in the SeaWing system after seeing our test results first-hand on their own ship.

“This first ro-ro vessel installation opens the way for further pioneering deals on container ships, bulk freighters and ferries.”

The news follows the recent announcement that Maersk has started testing rotor sails on one of its product tankers.

Maersk first announced its plans to fit the 30m tall sails, developed by the Finnish firm Norsepower, in March last year. Two of the sails have now been retrofitted to the Maersk Pelican, a 245m oil tanker, and the extra wind propulsion provided by the sails are expected to save 7-10% on fuel consumption-related emissions.

They are the tallest such sails in operation, and make the Pelican the third active commercial vessel to use Norsepower’s technology.

The rotating sails, called Flettner rotors, work by creating a pressure imbalance that propels the ship forward and use the same physics principles that cause a ball curve when spin is applied.

Andrew Scott, programme manager for heavy-duty vehicles marine and offshore renewable energy at the Energy Technologies Institute, which is partnering with Maersk on the project, said: “Auxiliary wind propulsion is one of the few fuel-saving technologies that is expected to offer double-digit percentage improvements.

“The technology is projected to be particularly suitable for tankers and dry bulk carriers, and this test will assist in determining the further potential for rotor sails in the product tanker industry.”

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