Airbus to launch new low-carbon ocean fleet featuring Flettner rotors

Airbus to launch new low-carbon ocean fleet featuring Flettner rotors
Artist's concept of the Airbus ship
Artist's concept of the Airbus ship
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Artist's concept of the Airbus ship
Artist's concept of the Airbus ship

Mentioning Airbus doesn't usually bring the image of sea vessels to mind, but the aerospace giant has announced that it plans to replace its charter fleet that carries components across the ocean with greener, more efficient ships starting in 2026.

We lie in a global economy and that's true even if we're speaking of single companies. In order to gain the proper levels of efficiency, it's common for firms to spread their facilities across continents and even the entire globe.

It's partly for this reason that Airbus maintains its own fleet of three chartered vessels, which ferry aircraft subassemblies across the Atlantic Ocean from Saint-Nazaire, France, to the company's single-aisle aircraft final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama. With A320 production expected to rise to 75 aircraft per month by 2026, that adds up to a hefty carbon footprint.

To combat this, Airbus has commissioned shipowner Louis Dreyfus Armateurs to build three new low-emission roll-on/roll-off ships that Airbus will lease, but Louis Dreyfus Armateurs will own and operate.

The new streamlined vessels will feature six Flettner rotors, which are large, vertical, rotating cylinders that act like airfoils and use the wind to generate thrust to drive the craft. In addition, the ships will incorporate two dual-fuel engines running on maritime diesel oil and e-methanol. Also, routing software will be used to plot the most effective course that takes the most advantage of prevailing winds and currents.

Each transport will be capable of carrying seventy 40-ft (12-m) containers and six single-aisle aircraft sub assembly sets – up from the four-set maximum of the current fleet's ships.

According to Airbus, the new technology will reduce carbon emissions from 68,000 to 33,000 tonnes by 2030.

"The renewal of our marine fleet is a major step forward in reducing our environmental impact," said Nicolas Chrétien, Head of Sustainability & Environment at Airbus. "The latest generation of vessels proposed by Louis Dreyfus Armateurs are more fuel efficient than their predecessors, using cutting-edge technologies like wind-assisted propulsion. This demonstrates our determination to lead the way in decarbonizing our sector by innovating not just in aviation, but across all our industrial operations."

Source: Airbus

I applaud their effort to reduce pollution and expect it will be a long term money saver.
How many ports would ships of this design be excluded from because of bridges? As it is now a bridge would block them from the only other approach to Mobile Bay.
I have often wondered why this tech has not been used- I first read about these rotating towers decades ago. As to pbethel's comment (very astute!), I see no reason that the rotors couldn't be made collapsible to go under bridges.

My same comment also applies to computer controlled sails and/or kites to provide additional thrust for oceangoing vessels. The technology already exists.
Nice try But I think Airbus would be much better off if they adopted the concept. It looks weird but may do what no other aircraft can, which is why it looks weird. Sadly the professionals seem to be so turned off by appearances that no one has actually "sun the numbers" done the technical R&D to discover if it would actually fly. Please check it out.
Flettner rotors are not a good choice. 4 automatic airfoils that naturally adjust to power, no power and reverse even just by controlling a trim tab. As they make 4x the power of a Flettner, only 4 needed for a lot more power.
At no power it basically just points into the wind making no drag vs Flettner rotors are always up a good side wind, things could get nasty. As nearly sank one that tried.
I certainly recommend looking at that concordlift thing. If nothing else it will put a smile on your face and fill your engineering mind with dozens of questions:-)
Pbethel, I believe they use a fold-down system ; see the Anemoi Rotors website.
Why not just assemble the planes in France, where the parts are made? Maybe this is some political/financial arrangement.
As a retired containership engineer, I applaud this effort. I'm sure there will be issues, such as wind load in a storm. There seem to be some other good suggestions here as well. At some point, someone will figure out how to harvest wind efficiently with a low maintenance system, and we'll be able to use it more widely.