Wind power going green

Kühne Logistics University researching viability of wind-based ship propulsion
09 November 2021
Wallenius' Oceanbird freighter

"International maritime transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions," according to the European Commission’s study “Reducing Emissions in the Shipping Sector”. Annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions may yet skyrocket from around 940 million tons of CO₂ (2.5 per cent) to between 50 and 250 per cent by 2050, if the framework conditions remain unchanged, the International Maritime Organsation's (IMO) third Greenhouse Gas survey has found. Such a leap would undermine the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. However, the authors of the study have identified untapped potential for lowering emissions by reducing speed, weather routing and more efficient propulsion. 

WASP researching efficiency of wind-based ship propulsion


Wind is the focus of a North Sea project involving 14 stakeholders including shipping companies, NGOs, universities and financial advisors keen on more efficient propulsion. The viability of wind-based ship propulsion systems is central to Kühne Logistics University’s (KLU) research as part of the EU Interreg North Sea Region scheme. Such hybrid technology could help decarbonise the shipping industry. Other approaches are also being investigated such as innovative stable wing sails or so-called ventifoils that suck in air and generate propulsion and rotor technology.

The three-year Wind Assisted Ship Propulsion (WASP) scheme, worth EUR 5.4 million, focuses on the operational performance of various wind-assisted propulsion solutions. They are to be researched, tested and verified with a view to market launch.


Scandlines' hybrid ferry with rotor sail
© Horst-Dieter Foerster/Scandlines
Scandlines' hybrid ferry "Copenhagen" with rotor sail
Dr. Vasileios Kosmas, Senior Researcher at KLU
© KLU Christin Schwarzer
Dr. Vasileios Kosmas, Senior Researcher at KLU

Promising, initial tests

The considerable investment cost is one of the key challenges to the uptake of alternative ship propulsion systems, according to Dr Vasileios Kosmas, Senior Researcher at the Hapag Lloyd Center for Shipping and Global Logistics (CSGL) based in KLU. "Transferring wind-based propulsion technologies from theory to practice and realising this on an industrial scale is a complex process.”

Soaring global fuel prices may increase the opportunities for wind propulsion technologiesPractical tests have proven promising so far. The German-Danish ferry company, Scandlines, installed a rotor sail on its hybrid ferry "Copenhagen" in 2020. The shipping company is relying on the proven concept of Flettner rotor technology. A 30-metre-high rotating cylinder propels the ship forward using the Magnus effect. "The data analysis has confirmed the great potential for reducing energy requirements. Particularly, the energy and power savings achieved were around 4 per cent," said Kosmas. Scandlines now plans to equip a second ship with the rotor technology."



Success hinges on various factors

Whether other shipping companies follow suit hinges on several factors as not all technologies are suitable for every ship. Kosmas noted: "The economic viability and ecological impact of investing in wind assisted ship propulsion-based technologies hinge on a variety of factors. Specifically, the potential fuel consumption and emission reduction can depend, among others, on the direction of wind, ocean currents, the type of ship, and the training and competence of the crew. "Government subsidies or other incentives provided by international organisations such as the IMO could speed up the uptake of wind-based propulsion technologies," he added.

Enercon E-Ship 1 Enercon Flickr
© Enercon Flickr/ Alan Jamieson
Enercon E-Ship 1

Science and business into exchange

KLU is managing the "Policy and Viable Business" work-package section of the WASP project with emphasis on the economic impact and promising business cases. "We and our partners in science and business are bringing theory and practice together to expand the existing knowledge. Our aim is to successfully provide a fact-based, practically relevant and methodologically sound overview of the opportunities and risks of wind assisted ship-based propulsion technologies." And the opportunities are clearly promising, according to Kosmas.