Futuristic sails cut pollution
LONDON (AP) — As the shipping industry faces pressure to cut climate-altering greenhouse gases, one answer is blowing in the wind.
European and U.S. tech companies, including one backed by airplane maker Airbus, are pitching futuristic sails to help cargo ships harness the free and endless supply of wind. While they sometimes don’t even look like sails — some are shaped like spinning columns — they represent a cheap and reliable way to reduce CO2 emissions for an industry that depends on a particularly dirty form of fossil fuels.
“It’s an old technology,” said Tuomas Riski, the CEO of Finland’s Norsepower, which added its “rotor sail” technology for the first time to a tanker in August. “Our vision is that sails are coming back to the seas.”
Separately, A.P. MollerMaersk, which shares the same owner and is the world’s biggest container shipping company, pledged this week to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050, which will require developing commercially viable carbon neutral vessels by the end of next decade.
The shipping sector’s interest in “sail tech” and other ideas took on greater urgency after the International Maritime Organization, the U.N.’s maritime agency, reached an agreement in April to slash emissions by 50 percent by 2050.
Shipping, like aviation, isn’t covered by the Paris agreement because of the difficulty attributing their emissions to individual nations, but environmental activists say industry efforts are needed. Ships belch out nearly 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, accounting for 2-3 percent of global greenhouse gases. The emissions are projected to grow between 50 to 250 percent by 2050 if no action is taken.
Notoriously resistant to change, the shipping industry is facing up to the need to cut its use of cheap but dirty “bunker fuel” that powers the global fleet of 50,000 vessels — the backbone of world trade.
The IMO is taking aim more broadly at pollution, requiring ships to start using low-sulfur fuel in 2020 and sending ship owners scrambling to invest in smokestack scrubbers, or looking at cleaner but pricier distillate fuels.
A Dutch group, the Goodshipping Program, is trying biofuel, which is made from organic matter. It refueled a container vessel in September with 22,000 liters of used cooking oil, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 40 tons.
In Norway, efforts to electrify maritime vessels are gathering pace, highlighted by the launch of the world’s first allelectric passenger ferry, Future of the Fjords, in April. Chemical maker Yara is meanwhile planning to build a batterypowered autonomous container ship to ferry fertilizer between plant and port.
Batteries are effective for coastal shipping, though not for long-distance sea voyages, so the industry will need to consider other “energy carriers” generated from renewable power, such as hydrogen or ammonia.
Finnish startup company Norsepower installed its rotor sail technology on the Maersk Pelican tanker this summer in Rotterdam, Netherlands, as the shipping industry tries new solutions in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The 98-foot deck-mounted spinning columns convert wind into thrust.