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Wind could be used to power cargo ships

To cut carbon emissions, large shipping vessels could be retrofitted with sails so that they can be powered by wind. 

A new initiative from the University of Southampton will investigate how modern vessels perform on the ocean when fitted with wing-sails. The experts seek to explore the potential of the technology to decarbonize the UK’s maritime sector.

Lead scientist Dr. Joseph Banks said that global shipping, a large source of emissions, needs to be decarbonized quickly.

“Ships powered by wind is obviously nothing new – but almost every large vessel operating today is powered by fossil fuels, leaving a lasting mark on the environment. While new wind-assist technologies are being developed, many are not ready for market and their predicted fuel savings have not been independently verified at sea, which is why UK-funded research projects like this are so important,” said Dr. Banks. 

The grants for the Winds of Change project were provided by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK, which is working to transform the UK into a world-leader for clean maritime equipment.

Scientists will test the impact of a retractable 20 meter-high FastRig wing-sail retrofitted on the commercial ship the Pacific Grebe – a 105 meter vessel.

“This is an innovative project because the technology can be retrofitted to pre-existing vessels to quickly reduce emissions from the existing ships and help create quieter, emission-free ships in the future that do no harm to ocean environments and improve air quality in ports towns and cities,” said Dr. Banks. 

“Our team of researchers will investigate the complex interactions between the wing-sails and the ship hydrodynamics enabling accurate predictions of vessel performance which will be compared to the demonstration vessel Pacific Grebe as part of the project.”

Wind power is the fastest way for the sector to reduce emissions. The team hopes their new tool, which predicts the fuel savings delivered by the wing-sails, will drive further investment in marine technology and promote the exciting field of Maritime Engineering. 

To learn more about this new research, visit

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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