Harnessing the wind to help save the earth

The shipping industry, which relies almost entirely on fossil fuels to transport more than 80% of all internationally traded goods by volume, has taken a massive leap towards decarbonization with a technique that harks back to earlier times – sails.

The Pyxis Ocean, fitted with two WindWings installed at China’s COSCO shipyard, set sail from Singapore on its way to Brazil, to test cutting-edge wind propulsion techniques in commercial shipping for the first time.

The WindWings, made from steel and fibreglass, were fitted on its cargo ship decks to capture and utilize wind energy. They are expected to generate huge cost savings on fuel – up to 30% on new build vessels on average and even higher if combined with alternative fuels. 

The five-year-old Pyxis Ocean freighter, which is owned by Mitsubishi Corporation and can carry close to 81,000 tonnes of cargo, was chartered by the American shipping corporation Cargill for its first wind-powered voyage.

The sails consist of three elements – a central 10-metre-wide element and two five-metre-wide wings on either side – each with a central pivot. The automated sails pivot to use the wind so the ship does not solely rely on its engine, and they can fold down to the ship’s deck for passing through bridges or canals.

They were developed by BAR Technologies, a company originally formed by renowned British sailor Sir Ben Ainslie and motor racing leader Martin Whitmarsh to design a British yacht that could win the America’s Cup, and Yara Marine Technologies of Norway. Its modelling capacity had attracted Cargill’s interest.

“Reductions in fuel consumption via the exploitation of wind energy as a free fuel generates the two-fold benefits of lower fuel costs and lower emissions, propelling the global fleet affordably on its track to decarbonisation,” said BAR Technologies CEO John Cooper.

“Today is the culmination of years of pioneering research, where we’ve invested in our unique wind sail technology and sought out a skilled industrialization partner in Yara Marine Technologies, to provide vessel owners and operators with an opportunity to realize these efficiencies,” he added.

“The maritime industry is on a journey to decarbonize—it’s not an easy one, but it is an exciting one,” said Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill’s Ocean transportation business. “At Cargill, we have a responsibility to pioneer decarbonizing solutions across all our supply chains to meet our customer’s needs and the needs of the planet.” If the industry were a country, it would be the sixth heaviest polluter via CO2 in the world.

Wind offers substantial opportunities for cutting emissions while also increasing vessel operating efficiency, said Cooper. Used on average global routes, each WindWings can cut fuel usage by 1.5 tonnes per day. Savings could be higher on longer trips across oceans. Heavy field oil costs about $800 per tonne and is expected to become more expensive in future, says Cargill.

“The pressure is on the ship-owning and chartering community to take proactive and material action to tackle the immediate and uprising challenges towards the energy transition on its existing vessels, and fast,” said Takafumi Oka, general manager of Mitsubishi Corporation’s ship department.

“Our partnership with Cargill demonstrates the collaborative effort that is required to align strategic objectives among the stakeholders and ensure the global fleet can keep pace with evolving demands to reduce the environmental impact of our industry.”

Cargill aims to use the Pyxis Ocean to encourage the shipping industry to adopt new decarbonizing technologies. WIndWings offer a retrofit solution for existing vessels – 55% of the world’s bulker carrier fleets are nine years of age.


Wind power with a high-tech twist could help ships burn less fuel De Zeen

Shipping giants’ wind-propelled two-winged ship sets sail. Interesting Engineering, Aug. 21, 2023

Cargill and BAR Technologies’ ground-breaking wind technology sets sail, chartering a new lower-carbon path for the maritime industry Cargill

The Future of Shipping Is … Sails? Bloomberg, Aug. 24, 2022