While early seafaring expeditions and global trade relied almost exclusively on wind power, modern ships typically rely on powerful engines to propel them through the water.
The ongoing push for clean energy and a stunning advancement in efficiency, however, might bring about a resurgence of wind-powered ships.
Birth of the “wingsail”
Before you start envisioning a supersized version of your uncle’s dinghy, let’s clarify that this new generation of ships is much different than anything in the past.
One intriguing example is the Oceanbird Wing 560 and it’s expected to be completed later this year.
Here are some specs:
- It will be more than 130 feet high.
- The surface will cover more than 6,000 square feet.
- It will tip the scales at about 200 metric tons.
So what kind of sail will capture enough wind to move this behemoth from one port to the next? Oceanbird Managing Director Niclas Dhal explained.“It’s more like an airplane wing that you put on top of a ship rather than a normal sail, that’s why we call it a wingsail.”
The future of ocean travel?
While the Oceanbird Wing 560 might be getting a lot of attention, it’s hardly the only example of this new era.
With about 90% of the world's trade goods being shipped internationally, this is a clear priority for governments and environmental advocacy groups. Just five years ago, the International Maritime Organization set an ambitious target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half (compared to 2008 levels) by 2050.
And the University of Melbourne’s Christiaan De Beukelaer said that target is “not enough by any measure to meet the temperature targets that are in the Paris Agreement.”The organization will establish a revised goal this summer, and wingsail power could be a pivotal piece of the puzzle.