In 2013, Norway's Lade AS unveiled designs for Vindskip, a "hybrid" merchant ship which aims to harness the wind courtesy of a specially-shaped hull, in the process taking the burden off of its natural-gas powered engines and saving fuel. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute's Center for Maritime Logistics and Services (CML) have been working to help realize this goal by developing an algorithm that will allow the Vindskip's navigation system to use the combination of power and sail at its most economical.
For old clipper captains, the ideal voyage was one where they caught the wind at just the right strength and angle so they could tie off the sails and read a book for the next six weeks. It's not as simple as all that of course, especially when you are dealing with a modern ship design that uses the hull instead of sails to take advantage of the wind.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
So what difference can a sea breeze make to a hulking cargo vessel? "At angles close to headwind the wind generates a force in the ship’s direction," says a spokesperson for Lade. "Since the hull is shaped like a symmetrical air foil, the oblique wind on the opposite side – leeward – has to travel a longer distance. This causes a vacuum that pulls the ship forward."
CML is developing a weather routing module that takes into account the ship's course, hydrography, weather predictions, and many other factors to carry out a complex calculation to come up with a combination of the best route and the best course, so the aerodynamic hull works to its best advantage with speeds up to 19 knots.
Fraunhofer says the first version of the module went online in December and will be handed over to Lade AS this month.
Lade AS says that the first Vindskip freighter will be on the seas by 2019 after model tank tests have been completed.