Wind Power Returning To The Open Seas, Now With Artificial Intelligence

A 20% savings in fuel efficiency for a two-day retrofit is nothing to sneeze at, and that explains why the leading cargo shipper Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, Ltd. is adding more wind power punch to its existing roster of cargo ships. The company has just ordered another three Seawing sails from the company Airseas on top of a previous order. Better yet, from a carbon-cutting perspective, “K” Line also expects to leverage artificial intelligence to squeeze even more clean power from centuries-old seagoing technology.

A 20% Fuel Savings For A Two-Day Retrofit!

If the name Airseas rings a bell, that’s probably because of the connection to the well known aircraft maker Airbus. Airseas sailed across the CleanTechnica radar last fall, when we noted that it was founded by former engineers at Airbus (for the record, it is also funded and supported by Airbus, the EU, and other partners).

“The latest entry in the growing panoply of wind-assisted technology for cargo ships is a giant, kite-like sail that has just been tethered to the deck of the Ville de Bordeauxa roll-on/roll-off vessel commissioned by the leading aircraft manufacturer Airbus,” we said.

According to Airseas, it only takes about two days to retrofit a ship with a Seawing sail, and owners can anticipate a quick return for their wind power investment. The typical fuel savings is about 20%.

If that sounds like a lot of return for just one sail, Airseas has an explanation. The sail behaves more like a kite on a string than a sail lashed to a mast.

“Seawing flies at an altitude of over 200m to harness steadier and stronger winds,” they explain, adding that “Seawing flies dynamically on a figure-on-8 trajectory at over 100km/h, which generates 10 times more traction power than a static kite or sail.”

In practice, the results can vary. The company states a floor of 10% savings and a ceiling of up to 40%.

As for the operation of the sail, there is no hoisting of anything by anybody.

“Leveraging automation technologies from the aeronautical sector, Seawing is activated at the push of a button and is 100% automated. It is simple to use, operated from the bridge, with minimal training required for crews to deploy and operate,” Airseas states, which is an important point because the entire maritime industry is grappling with a labor shortage. The last thing a cargo ship captain needs is another piece of equipment that sucks up crew time and attention.

More AI For More Wind Power

All of this is just for starters. K Line apparently has big ideas for its wind power venture. The company’s initial order of two Seawings for two of its Capesize bulkers was an ambitious start, considering that “Capesize” refers to the largest cargo ship for hauling goods in bulk.

K Line’s first Capesize Seawing isn’t slated to sail until December, but it must be confident of its ROI. In addition to ordering three more Seawings (for three smaller “post-Panamax” bulkers), the company has inked a technology development deal with Airseas, in which it will deploy artificial intelligence to integrate other ship operations with wind power.

“K LINE and AIRSEAS have signed a technology development agreement for the effective utilization of the traction power from the “Seawing” based on renewable energy,” K Line explains. “Specifically, the objective of the agreement is to maximize the performance of “Seawing” by integrating ‘K’ LINE’s ship operational technology with utilization of ‘Kawasaki Integrated Maritime Solutions’ and AIRSEAS’s ‘Seawing’ development technology.”

The K-IMS angle goes back to 2016, when K Line and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd Group announced that they developed K-IMS as an advanced vessel operation and performance management system.

K-IMS merged the K-Line’s existing Ship Performance Analyzing System and Engine Plant Monitor with additional operation and navigation data provided by the new Optimum Navigation System.

“Integrating these individual systems enables us to utilize the real-time operation data from vessels, so-called Big data, in mutual systems and also enables us to support vessel operation and manage vessel performance in an easy way by grasp of real-time vessel operating conditions, optimum safety route selection, the latest vessel performance and so on through the new data browsing system we have developed,” K-Line explained.

“K-IMS” could be shared among operation teams, ship management companies and vessels,” they added. “Therefore, it will contribute not only to safety navigation and efficient fuel cost but also to improve vessel operation and management of time.”

Last year, K-Line and Kawasaki Heavy Industries also announced completion of a co-development deal for something called the Artificial Intelligence-Based Marine Machinery Operation Support System, aka “the System,” as the core technology enabling the autonomous ship of the future .

“In view of safer operations at sea, improvement of working environment for seafarers, and higher pressure for industrial competitiveness, the expectations for autonomous operations for ships is growing these days,” K-Line explained, so stay tuned for more on that.

What’s Next For Cargo Shippers

Seawing is just one among several ways in which wind power is going back to work for the shipping industry. CleanTechnica has recently taken note of pipe-shaped, vertical “sails” that spin, and rigid sails that act like airplane wings, based on technology developed for racing yachts.

One variation that escaped the CleanTechnica radar is WISAMO, a sort of puffy wing sail developed by Michelin, which popped up on the scene last fall.

“The WISAMO project’s name comes from the first 2 letters of the words ‘Wing Sail’ and ‘Mobility’ and was born from an encounter between Michelin’s Research & Development department and two Swiss inventors sharing the Group’s ‘all-sustainable’ vision,” Michelin explains.

The sail is designed for use on most vessels, pleasure boats as well as commercial.

It looks like Ro-Ro vessels will be the first to share in the new wind power plan, meaning vessels equipped to carry cars and other rolling stock. Earlier this year, Michelin signed on with Compagnie Maritime Nantaise install a prototype version on the MN Pélican Ro-Ro.

They expect to have their wind power enabled ship in operation by the end of the year, on a route between Spain and Great Britain.

“Thanks to this installation, the WISAMO wing will be in actual commercial maritime navigation conditions, tested contributing to the new technology’s industrial development phase. If the trials are conclusive, the partnership deal could open the door to trials using a larger wing sail, marking a great step toward decarbonizing maritime transport,” Michelin enthused.

Michelin has also been testing a prototype with the renowned sailor Michel Desjoyeaux.

For all the excitement, wind power has barely made a dent in the shipping scene, at least not yet. However, things are moving along quickly. Wind power could play a significant role in the decarbonization of the shipping industry in the near future, though not a complete role. Green ammonia fuel and other lower-carbon alternatives to heavy diesel fuel are also in the mix along with batteries and fuel cells.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: Wind power for cargo ships courtesy of Airseas.


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