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Water Today Title April 14, 2024

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Wind Propulsion

The Decade of Wind Propulsion

WT Interview with Gavin Allwright, Secretary-General International Windship Association (IWSA)

Suzanne Forcese

“It’s clear that wind must be fully integrated into the decarbonization pathways for shipping – it is an abundant, widely available, and free energy source waiting to be harnessed.”-- Gavin Allwright, Secretary-General International Windship Association (IWSA)

The International Windship Association (IWSA) facilitates and promotes wind propulsion for commercial shipping worldwide and brings together all parties in the development of a windship sector to shape industry and government attitudes and policies. Image IWSA

WATERTODAY reached out to Gavin Allwright at the London, England headquarters of the International Windship Association. Here are some highlights of our exchange.

WT: How did your journey begin with IWSA?  

Allwright: On the personal front, back in 2011, I was working in a not-for-profit organization that was designing small zero emissions, sail, and solar-powered trading vessels for developing countries, along with completing a Master's degree in sustainability-focused on maritime transport and small vessel logistics and least developed countries. We were also completing our natural, self-built house in Japan when the Tsunami hit, uprooting our plans, due to being located downwind from the Fukushima plant and also ending my wife’s family's lives on the east coast of Miyagi.

These developments led me to welcome the opportunity to collaborate and help found the IWSA in 2014. Since the founding of the group by 12 pioneering projects and individuals, the association has continued to grow. Membership of full, associate, and registered supports totals over 180 organizations and individuals from over 30 countries.

We have 20-30 new members joining each year, but also the scope of those members is expanding, and our wider network is also growing strongly.

WT: Why have you called this the Decade of Wind Propulsion?

Allwright: The Decade of Wind Propulsion is our campaign to deliver on the promise of wind propulsion this decade. We see the 2020s as the critical decade for decarbonization. If we are to stay within the 1.5 C global warming limit, then we need serious double-digit reductions in emissions now.

The only technology available to shipping currently that can deliver those kinds of savings, along with operational changes is wind propulsion.

The campaign is therefore a call to arms for our members and network, but also a call to the industry to level the playing field when it comes to direct renewable energy use, such as wind, and also a declaration that we have the toolbox available that can deliver 20% reductions in emissions across the fleet this decade if we scale that in time.

WT: What is W.A.V.E.?

Allwright: The hybrid W.A.V.E. is exactly that –

Wind, taken as a standalone can deliver 20% across the fleet (retrofits and newbuilds).

Activity – if we factor in activity or operational changes (virtual arrivals, fleet management, training improvements, slower speeds, weather routing for wind, etc.). We can add a further 20%+ reduction in energy requirement.

Vessel optimization is doing all of the energy efficiency measures (integration/improving EMS, heat exchangers, enhanced maintenance, ship efficiency tech, coatings, etc.), which will again deliver a 20%+ reduction.

Eco-Fuels, which are costly and require significant infrastructure roll-out – are absolutely vital to complete the transition to zero-emissions, but we can significantly reduce the lift burden required to 20-40%.

WT: Faced with rising fuel prices –especially now! -- the shipping industry is also pivoting to reducing GHG emissions. How can wind propulsion contribute to the goals of zero-emissions? What are its advantages over fuel-centered approaches?

Allwright: Wind as an energy source is a pure zero-emissions propulsive energy source that is delivered to the point of use for free for the lifetime of the vessel with no need to mine, refine, transport, bunker, or store onboard. It is available worldwide in abundance today and will never be unavailable due to logistical problems.

The predictability of wind has also increased dramatically with weather routing and sophisticated forecasting.

The technologies needed to harness the wind are available already, can be retrofitted to almost all vessels, and have a high potential for new build vessels. Retrofit systems can deliver between 5-20% of the propulsive energy needed for a vessel (run as a motor vessel) and could be optimized up to 30%.

Newbuilds can be 50%+ primary wind vessels, and with operational adjustments can deliver extremely high levels without serious compromises on selected routes.

There is also growing interest in the potential to harvest excess wind onboard and convert that to storable fuels for use when there is limited or no wind.

As this is a free energy source, this creates certainty in the energy mix, locks in savings, and removes volatility for companies/fleets.

WT: Sailing technology – How is modern technology shifting perceptions and optimizing traditional systems?

Allwright: The main categories are:

  • Rotor – Rotating cylinders operated by low-power motors. Magnus effect (air pressure difference on different sides of a spinning object) generates thrust
  • Hard Sail – Wing sails, foils, and JAMDA style rigs. Some rigs have solar panels for added ancillary power generation
  • Suction Wing – Non-rotating wing with vents/internal fan using boundary layer suction for max effect.
  • Kites –Dynamic or passive kites off the bow of the vessel to assist propulsion or to generate a mixture of thrust and electrical energy
  • Soft Sail –Traditional canvas sail and new designs of Dyna rig etc. (Also used on large sail training vessels and mega-yacht systems)
  • Turbine –Marine adapted wind turbines generate electrical energy or electric/thrust combination
  • Hull form – Redesign of ship’s hulls to capture the power of the wind to generate thrust

Wind propulsion needs to be seen as a future, highly automated, data-driven solution which uses the latest materials and techniques which have been developed and that are practical for the 21st century and not taking the perception that wind propulsion is taking us back to the 19th century!

 WT: And challenges in changing perceptions?

Allwright: Barriers are primarily around delivering enough validated information to the industry for them to make business/investment decisions. This requires demonstrator vessels and also a change in perception in the industry. We are making progress on those points. Our commercial installations will likely double to 40 large vessels by early 2023.

WT: The IMO (International Maritime Organization) released a presser this month formally confirming that IWSA has been granted full consultive status at the regulatory level to bring wind-assist and primary wind propulsion to the fore. What does this mean for IWSA and the organization’s members?

Allwright: This primarily means that the industry and regulators understand and appreciate that wind-assist and large-scale primary wind propulsion development has progressed to such a degree that it is now a serious tool in the box for tackling both decarbonization and the future profitability and sustainability of the world fleet.

Wind energy provides solutions across the board, and being a free energy source holds great promise for developing countries.

Being granted full consultative status also means this is a partnership with the actors at IMO. We will work together to raise the ambition, to help deliver a more urgent, and deeper decarbonization that is also more affordable and equitable.

The inclusion of wind energy into the IMO (and other organizations) deliberations means an adjustment in thinking, a change in perspective that we will assist in facilitating. Just as we saw a century-long adjustment in the move from sail to coal, so we will see a balancing of those scales back to a more holistic approach. We are there to provide expertise, perspective and recommendations on how to achieve that in the relatively short time that we have available to us.

For our members and IWSA as a whole, this means that the engagement we already had with IMO on wind and decarbonization can now be enhanced. When all regulation is being devised, then the impact on, and the impact of a non commoditized, free energy source can be considered and incorporated at an early stage in the proceedings.

WT: Sailing forward ...What is the vision?

Allwright: We see a three-thread development of wind, all developing simultaneously, but at different speeds.

Tweaking – retrofits on 60,000+ existing ships – reducing costs and emissions, thus extending the carbon budget available to the industry.

Transition – new build vessels are optimized as wind-assist, wind ready or as new build vessels, heading toward zero-emissions.

Transformation – all new-build vessels are equipped with wind, onboard harvesting technologies making ships ‘fuel autonomous’ and even vessels operating on negative and generate fuels that could be off-loaded for other uses.

WT: And one final thought for our viewers.

Allwright: Decarbonization in shipping is no longer an issue of can/can’t...yes, we can! The question now is: How deep and how fast can we move? Our answer is that we have choices to make and if we choose to move quickly and substantially, then all of the tools are available this decade to make serious inroads into that...but only if wind is brought into the core of the equation.

Fair winds!


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