Giving flight to wind technology in shipping

Giving flight to wind technology in shipping

Despite the global pandemic, the world of shipping continues to debate the various methods of achieving lowered emissions. A recent study from the University of Manchester found that if stringent carbon emission mitigation measures are applied comprehensively throughout the next decade, the shipping industry will still be able to make a positive impact to fulfil the Paris Climate Agreement without having to ‘rush in’ legislation that could significantly harm the commercial prospects of shipping against the backdrop of decarbonisation. However, there is still a degree of uncertainty when it comes to active decarbonisation strategies and a lack of consistency in the future fuels debate. Something that should now start to become crystal clear for shipping is the role of wind as a renewable energy source is a viable step and a key part of any decarbonisation strategy, writes Romain Gibon, product manager, Airseas. 

Wind propulsion is not new to shipping; for centuries, sail power helped countries cross the seas and transport valuable goods around the world. However, we need to start encouraging an attitude change in how the industry sees wind technology. There are positive signs that this attitude is slowly changing. Already the International Windships Association contains over 100 members – ten times more than in 2014. However, to maintain the momentum of the attitude change, wind needs to be presented as a modern solution that provides the performance and economic benefits that owners are looking for. To help speed up this attitude change, seeking inspiration from appropriate industries outside shipping could help.

Harnessing wind on modern ships with the level of tonnage that comes with modern ships is difficult, and we have seen various attempts to build a kite sail solution. To build a solution that takes into account all aspects of a ship’s operations and provides sufficient traction that is simple enough to operate without placing an unreasonable burden on the crew, however, has proved a significant challenge for the innovators in this sector. In solving this, there are various factors to consider. Whether through rotor sails, rigid wing, or a kite, an optimised wind capture system needs to be implemented with aerodynamics at its core. There are also challenges when it comes to the physical use of the technology, creating an automated system that reacts in real-time to its environment, that reacts to the wave action affecting the ship and that does not unduly affect the ship’s motion.

From its aerospace heritage and close links with the aerospace industry, Airseas continues to develop some of the most advanced automation systems of the modern age and is applying them to shipping. By doing so, we are advancing the technological boundaries of wind in shipping and help bring this attitude change on how the industry perceives wind solutions.

A pillar of this exchange between aviation/shipping is with the digital twin concept – the merging of physical hardware with the automation software that is underpinned by multiple data streams. This takes into account all aspects of the interface between the ship and the kite and is a fundamental principle behind the Airseas kite wind solution. This helps ensure the use of the kite is optimised – the objective is to have the kite deployed as often as possible, but in the conditions when it will generate the highest fuel savings. It also simplifies the interface between the technology and the crew – the ultimate decision always lies with the crew who have oversight of the entire operation, ensuring seamless and safe operations.

The digital twin concept that the Airseas kite operates on utilises and processes inbound data streams from navigation, meteorological, and seascape data from existing bridge technologies, and partners it with sensor data. When the data shows that the conditions are optimal to deploy, the system will make an informed recommendation to the bridge crew, who ultimately decide to deploy or not. When deployed, the sensors also ensure the kite responds to minute changes in conditions, such as air pressure, wind direction and speed. This helps adjust the profile of the kite to ensure that the maximum amount of traction is being generated. It also will retract the kite if conditions become suboptimal.

Another element where the digital concept emerges is when the kite takes into account all aspects of the vessel’s operation and situation. When the automation software is integrated with the onboard navigation and meteorological software it will recommend a route that will result in the optimised use of the Airseas kite. This is highly dependent upon vessel size, type, and load, but the algorithm compensates for this, taking into consideration when it is best to deploy the kite.

The digital twin application also plays a vital role in supporting the safe use of the Airseas kite by validating sensor data. By comparing data generated from real-time use against model data, if there is a misalignment between the two, then it can indicate a problem and alert the crew.

While there is a degree of uncertainty about the definitive route to decarbonisation, wind technology is emerging as a clear partner. Whatever alternative fuels owners select; wind will consistently reduce the amount of fuel they need. To make this a reality, automation technology is going to be a major factor in shaping the future of wind solutions in the shipping industry. To help build the technological foundation of the automation in wind technology, it will be important to draw inspiration from other industries.

By developing and embracing the solution now, we have can help the shipping industry take a significant step in managing its current emissions and make the decisive first steps to put the shipping industry on a clearer road to fulfilling its environmental commitments.