- The commodities giant Cargill will launch the first ocean-going tankers fitted with BAR Technologies' "wing sails" by 2022.
- BAR Technologies is a spin-off from the America's Cup team that was headed by the Olympic champion sailor Ben Ainslie.
- CEO John Cooper, McLaren Racing's former chief business officer, says he believes sail technology can help the global ocean-going commercial fleet drastically cut emissions — and cope with the costs of meeting new regulations.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
As soon as 2022, low-emission tankers fitted with 150-foot "sails" could be a regular sight in New York Harbor.
The vessels will be the first of hundreds fitted with a new way to capture the power of wind if an ambitious business plan inspired by Formula One and America's Cup yacht racing proves successful in tackling global trade's carbon footprint.
The new sails, which look more like giant lint brushes than anything an old-school sailor would recognize, are the product of a UK engineering company headed by a pair of veterans of McLaren's F1 team.
Chairman Martin Whitmarsh and CEO John Cooper recognized that the shipping industry was under growing pressure from international regulators and customers to cut emissions. In that expensive proposition, they saw a chance to turn headwinds into tailwinds.
BAR Technologies' patented WindWings sail design resembles and functions much like an airplane wing. The steel and composite structures sit upright and are shaped to maximize airflow — therefore lift — as the wind passes over them.
WindWings can cut a ship's carbon emissions by up to 30% per voyage, Cooper said. The sails could be retrofitted onto thousands of vessels already plying the seas and become a core component of new designs as the global commercial fleet is replenished by ships powered by clean fuels.
"WindWings enables a 30% cut in heavy marine fuel oil, and therefore emissions, for vessels now," Cooper said.
But the real advantage will come as more ships swap out that dirty, cheap bunker fuel for cleaner options like ammonia and green hydrogen.
"That fuel will be a lot more expensive than marine fuel oil," Cooper said. "So the business case for WindWings will be even stronger then because you'll be saving 30% of a very expensive fuel."
Shipping's emissions challenge
The launch of WindWings comes as the shipping industry debates how best to reduce its carbon footprint. The International Maritime Organization, shipping's global regulator, mandated the use of relatively expensive low-sulfur fuels at the start of 2020 and has committed to halving greenhouse-gas emissions from vessels by 2050, compared with 2008.
But some of the largest shippers and regional bodies, such as the European Union, say shipping is moving too slowly. They want to see firm evidence the industry is taking more significant action, not least by embarking on the hugely expensive task of building and deploying a new fleet of ships that do not burn marine fuel oil.
It will take at least a decade for the industry to decide which sustainable fuel to opt for (green hydrogen and ammonia are the front-runners) and build the required port, supply, and storage infrastructure to supply a new fleet of ships. So it is desperate for solutions that cut emissions in the next few years.
Against this backdrop, Cargill signed up as BAR Technologies' primary partner in taking WindWings to market. The agricultural giant will install the sails on a series of new medium-range product tankers by 2022. It also plans to fit WindWings on new 200-meter-plus bulk carriers, which will be used for transporting US exports including grains, wheat, corn, oilseeds, and barley.
"WindWings can be fitted on any vessel that has a suitable place for attachment and enjoys good windage to that location," Cooper told Business Insider. "The best-suited vessels are tankers, bulk carriers, and car carriers, but all vessels should look to deploy them to decarbonize further, including cruise ships."
America's Cup by design
BAR Technologies was formed in 2016 with a mission to make the design knowledge, technical skills, and intellectual property developed for America's Cup yacht racing available to commercial shipping. (The company was previously called Ben Ainslie Racing Technologies. Ainslie, a champion British sailor, remains a shareholder and offers support and advice.)
Cooper joined the company in 2019 after spending almost 15 years with McLaren's F1 team, having worked alongside Whitmarsh and the legendary team founder Ron Dennis in various roles, including most recently as chief business officer. He says he believes his background in commercializing motorsports technology will enable WindWings to succeed financially.
WindWings were designed using computer modeling and simulations, including advanced optimization that uses neural-network training and computational fluid dynamics.
"The wind passes over the sails in the same way as air goes over a plane's wing to generate lift," Cooper said. "So the WindWings are shaped to maximize that airflow to provide the most lift, and therefore the most propulsion."
The solid wing sails are made of steel and solid composite materials and can be lowered to enable the ship to pass under bridges as needed. Size is determined by the vessel type, but the largest version can stretch to over 45 meters (148 feet) tall.
"The dimensions of each fitting of WindWings will be customized for the specific vessel type, although the number of different sizes will be kept to about three to ensure ongoing spare parts and original costs are kept as low as possible," Cooper said.
Route-optimization software will ensure vessels maximize weather conditions, according to Cooper.
"For Cargill's first vessels, we're looking at some of the most important routes including Rotterdam, the English Channel, and New York Harbor, for example," Cooper said. "We want to make sure of the tradability of the vessels going forwards."
Taking the tech to market
Though the sails will increase the cost of building a new ship, Cooper said that thanks to the 30% fuel savings, most customers should recoup their investment in less than four years.
"WindWings is a great sustainability case, but it's also a great business case," he said. "Wind is a near-marginal cost-free fuel, and the opportunity for reducing emissions, alongside significant efficiency gains in vessel operating costs, is substantial."
And the support of Cargill — one of the largest charterers — could prove critical to WindWings' success.
"Cargill and their partners are our first customers, but other customers will follow," Cooper said. With the International Maritime Organization's rules kicking in, the company wants "to do something ahead of their implementation. And they understand the technology. In fact, they've got a full department looking at the sustainability of the 600-plus vessels that they own and charter because they take this very, very seriously."
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