Wouldn’t it be a great idea to have today’s giant car carriers sailing the world’s oceans on merely wind power like the square-rigged sailings ships of centuries ago? The modern descendants of the Vikings, with Wallenius Wilhelmsen, a global ro-ro shipping company from Norway, and Swedish carmaker Volvo among others, are dreaming of realizing this by 2026-2027.
This dream should materialize in the 220-meter-long Orcelle Wind, a RoRo carrier with 7 000 cars aboard, powered not by canvas sails but rather by upright metal wings, using the principles of an airplane wing to create a horizontal force forward. The eleven project partners have secured Horizon Europe funding totaling nine million euros to support the building.
With funding from the EU
The actual building of the ship will be the second phase, building further on the Oceanbird concept developed in a three-year Swedish R&D project with a team consisting of Wallenius Marine, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and SSPA/RISE. That project studied the feasibility of large cargo ships with aero wings using computer simulations and models in wind tunnels, among others.
Today, maritime transport emits around 940 million tons of CO2 annually and is responsible for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, even more than airplanes. The emissions will increase by 50%-250% no later than 2050 if nothing is done, according to International Maritime Organisation (IMO). IMO has set a target of reducing CO2 international shipping emissions by 40 percent per transport by 2030 compared to 2008.
Up to 12 knots on pure wind power
The Orcelle Wind should be able to sail at up to 10-12 knots (22,21 km/h) on pure wind energy without emissions, eventually with a helping hand from additional sustainable power to speed up. To compare, the MV Tonsberg, the world’s biggest ro-ro vessel owned by Wallenius Wilhelmsen, is capable of a top speed of 22 knots (40,7 km/h).
But the Tonsberg relies on a 7-cylinder MAN B&W engine, delivering 20 100 kW (26 900 hp) of power to a six-blad propeller with a diameter of 7,6 m. It uses heavy fuel oil where allowed and marine diesel with low sulfur in European waters but generates massive amounts of CO2 and particulates.
The Orcelle Wind should reduce emissions by 90% at least and will also decrease underwater sound pollution from engines and generators running. This should be a relief to whales and other sea mammals depending on their hearing to navigate, communicate among the herd, and find food.
But in today’s world of cost focus and just-in-time logistics, could wind actually be an option for reaching zero-emission propulsion, the shipping giant questions? The Orcelle Wind must prove its commercial viability at lower speeds, says Wallenius Wilhelmsen.
“Success here will be heavily dependent on partnerships with customers and whether there is a commitment in the market to adopting radical and innovative measures to reduce the environmental footprint of outbound supply chains drastically.”
Volvo to provide a user perspective
The ‘partnership with customers’ is where Volvo is stepping in to provide a user perspective. “We’ll explore our demands for vessels transporting our fully electric cars and will contribute to the analysis of supply chain design,” Volvo explains in a press release.
“And we have our questions to answer: how would we plan our order-to-distribution flow when we need to add time for wind-powered sea transport while ensuring we live up to our customer’s expectations?”
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