Clean maritime: wind-assist technology gets funding boost

Yacht (cutter rig) with the white sails billowing in the wind is sailing towards the horizon, another sailboat in the distance. Sun behind the sails. Looking from the port side over the deck towards the bow. White deck and sails contrasting with the blue water the the summer sky of the Mediterranean sea, French Riviera.

A new demonstration project will explore how wind power can help reduce shipping emissions, thanks to a £3.26 million UK government grant.

The ‘winds of change’ project is a partnership between Smart Green Shipping (SGS), a Dumfries-based systems design and engineering company, and the University of Southampton.

Working with Lloyds Register, Nuclear Transport Solutions (NTS) and several UK-based specialist sub-contractors, the project will retrofit the NTS vessel ‘Pacific Grebe’ with FastRig, a single 20-metre automated and retractable rigid wing sail, developed by SGS.

Wind power innovation

FastRig harnesses wind power to reduce a vessel’s fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and operating costs. Its innovative design enables it to be easily retrofitted to existing commercial vessels with available deck space.

CEO of SGS, Diane Gilpin, explained:

Wind-assist technology is the most promising near-term solution to reducing shipping emissions. It can be deployed more quickly and will reduce the consumption of more expensive alternative fuels such as methanol or hydrogen, making zero-emission ships more economic.

We’re currently the only all-British wind-assist company in the market. This project gives us a great opportunity to showcase the UK’s capacity and capabilities in this field.

About the funding

The ‘winds of change’ project is part of the Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition round three (CMDC3). CMDC3 has allocated £60 million to 19 projects from across the UK to deliver real world demonstration projects in clean maritime solutions between April 2023 to March 2025.

CMDC is funded by the Department for Transport as part of the UK Shipping Office for Reducing Emissions programme and is being delivered in partnership with Innovate UK.

Sea trials

A 3D render of the Smart Green Shipping Alliance FastRig.

A 3D render of the SGS Alliance FastRig.
Credit: SGS Alliance

Testing FastRig on a commercial vessel will provide real-life data on potential fuel savings and emissions reductions. It will also increase the team’s understanding of how wind propulsion can work alongside motor-driven propellers.

Using the ‘Pacific Grebe’, a specialist nuclear material carrier with extremely high safety standards, will also help overcome market barriers by increasing shipowners’ confidence in wind-assist technology.

Diane added:

We are liaising closely with NTS and their partners on the installation of the FastRig to minimise disruption. Then we’ll be running sea trials, visiting ports around the UK to demonstrate the technology in action to the various stakeholders who are supporting delivery of this project and to interested international shipowners keen to learn how our lightweight, autonomous wing sails integrate seamlessly into the ship’s operations.

Winning the funding was incredible and has helped us create an unbelievable economic momentum. I’m really proud of the work that we’re doing, and I’m delighted to be able to follow through on what I knew we could achieve in this country. I just know we’ve got the talent, the capacity, and the innovation in the UK, and I’m thrilled to be able to showcase what we can do.

‘Winds of change’ will help us meet our net-zero targets and stimulate a green shipbuilding revolution. This project is good for business and good for our climate.

Top image:  Credit: nikitje, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.