First-ever inflatable wing sail technology is being mounted on a merchant ship

The roll-out of fleet-wide wind propulsion by 2050 'could unlock U.S. $1 trillion in fuel savings.'
Baba Tamim
Michelin’s Wing Sail Mobility (WISAMO) installed on a ship.
Michelin’s Wing Sail Mobility (WISAMO) installed on a ship.

WISAMO/YouTube 

A maritime company has declared a "milestone" by installing the first automated, retractable, inflatable wing sail technology on a merchant ship.

The container ship MN Pélican owned by Compagnie Maritime Nantaise, had the 100 sqm wing prototype installed, according to Michelin, the French industrial equipment supplier.

On Thursday, "Michelin, French industrial equipment supplier Start2Prod IMECA together with Compagnie Maritime Nantaise – MN, Michelin Aria, and Michelin Recherches et Technologies (MRT Switzerland) teams are fully involved in the installation of WISAMO wingsail on a first commercial vessel," the company wrote on Linkedin.

"This new step is a great multicultural experience and moments of diverse competencies sharings to contribute to an important cause toward maritime transport decarbonization."

The project WISAMO (Wing Sail and Mobility) is being installed on the merchant ship, which was built in 1999, and is currently docked in Spain's El Astillero Port.

The company claims that the prototype can be mounted on both commercial and recreational vessels. It is believed that by using wind energy, the technology may reduce fuel use by up to 20 percent per ship.

Industrial phase of the technology

First-ever inflatable wing sail technology is being mounted on a merchant ship
The inflated, foldable and automated wing uses wind propulsion as an hybrid solution to reduce fuel consumption.

The wing sail system can be added during the design phase of the ship, as original equipment, or retrofitted on an already-in-service ship. It is suitable for ro-ro vessels, bulk carriers, LNG carriers, and tankers. It retracts for simple passage under bridges and into ports, according to the company.

The installation project is based on a collaboration agreement signed in June 2022 between Michelin and the Compagnie Maritime Nantaise-MN, a division of SOGESTRAN Group, with the purpose of testing the "pioneering solution" on a ship.

Since 2016, Brittany Ferries has chartered the roro-containership MN Pélican at Compagnie Maritime Nantaise - MN. It travels twice weekly between Poole (U.K.) and Bilbao (Spain).

As part of the new technology's industrial development phase, Michellin will be able to test the WISAMO wing in actual commercial marine navigation circumstances thanks to the installation.

"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 said.

Greener sails

The maritime sector is paying increasing attention to wind propulsion as one of the alternatives that can allow ships to increase their efficiency and save fuel while also becoming more environmentally friendly.

The roll-out of fleet-wide wind propulsion by 2050 could unlock U.S. $1 trillion in fuel savings, according to Gavin Allwright, Secretary-General at the International Winship Association (IWSA).

With the most recent installations of wind propulsion technology on big commercial boats, the global cargo capacity of ships using wind as a renewable energy source has surpassed the milestone of one million tonnes of deadweight (dwt).

Twenty-one sizable commercial ships have wind propulsion systems at the moment. IWSA predicts that by the end of this year, 25 big commercial boats, totaling 1.2 million dwt, will have wind propulsion systems installed.

The globalization process has benefited greatly from the maritime industry. Water transport accounts for 90 percent of all trade. However, the environmental cost is substantial.

Each year, container ships that navigate the world's waterways emit about one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, or three percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

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