Cargo ships are a gigantic worldwide business, and freight lines have already made changes to use fewer fossil fuels. That includes slowing down, because freight ships already take long, steady journeys that can absorb some extra lead time. But a wind-powered alternative could even eventually increase speeds without putting more demand on the global fossil fuel infrastructure.
OceanBird has five “sails” that are more like airplane wings or helicopter rotors, using rushing air at different speeds to pull the ship forward. For now, it can reach 10 nautical miles per hour, or knots, and will make the trip across the Atlantic Ocean in 12 days compared to eight in a fossil fuel cargo ship.
Like a Prius and other hybrids, the ship will use a fuel engine to get going and then the most efficient energy to cruise. In addition, the development team has made changes to the shape of the ship’s hull and added robust computing power that calculates the best possible configuration to harness the most speed at any give time.
What results is a sleeker, smarter ship design that the company says could also be used to improve cruise ships—a distant-feeling thought in 2020’s COVID-19 shutdown, but something that will eventually come back into play. Overall, Wallenius Marine says it has cut emissions by 90 percent.
While the global cargo shipping industry has taken a variety of steps to reduce its fossil fuel emissions, the sheer size of the industry and ongoing demand means it still makes up about 2 percent of all global emissions. The OceanBird is strictly in the design phase for now, with a fully realized design next year and earliest possible production in 2024.
Wallenius Marine wants to drum up interest now, but it also hopes sharing its ideas will encourage others in the space to continue to innovate. Goods will always need to circulate around the world, making cargo shipping an industry where even small changes can have a tangible and immediate impact.