On 15th September 2023, bulk carrier Pyxis Ocean arrived in Paranagua, Brazil, from Shanghai.
There’s nothing remarkable about this everyday occurrence, you may think. However, the local paper reported it in more detail:
‘O navio cargueiro Pyxis Ocean, equipado com modernas velas mecânicas, atracou no Brasil na última sexta-feira, 15 de setembro, após concluir sua viagem inaugural desde Xangai, na China.’
‘The cargo ship Pyxis Ocean, equipped with modern mechanical sails, arrived in Brazil last Friday 15th September after concluding her inaugural voyage from Shanghai in China.’
In short, the Pyxis Ocean is the first ship to be equipped with ‘Wind Wings’, a device developed by British company BAR Technologies, a spin-off of Ben Ainslie Racing, which aims to put to commercial use the knowledge and skills used in the America’s Cup racing team. It is anticipated that a similar vessel equipped with three Wind Wings would cut her carbon emissions by 30% or up to 50% if biofuel is used.
Put simply, Wind Wings are metal and fibre-glass sails. With shipping estimated to produce around 3% of global CO2 emissions, BAR Technologies’ CEO, John Cooper, predicts that by 2025 half the world’s new-built ships will be fitted with wind propulsion. He would love to make them in the UK but these were made in China because of the high cost of imported steel in this country. The wings are folded down when the ship is in harbour and opened out when it is in open water. Standing 37.5 metres tall, they use the same materials as are used in wind turbines, so they are built to last. And, as the 6-year-old Pyxis Ocean demonstrates, Wind Wings can also be retrofitted. As each wing saves 1.5 tonnes of fuel per day, a ship fitted with four Wind Wings would save 6 tonnes of fuel, amounting to 20 tonnes of CO2 emissions per day.
There is a ‘Back to the Future’ aspect in this; because Wind Wings use air propulsion, routes will be changed to include the old Trade Wind routes used by sailing ships of the past like the tea clippers that brought us our tea from China. But this does not necessarily mean that they will take longer; travelling via Singapore, the Pyxis Ocean completed the Singapore to Brazil section of the journey in just over 4 weeks, nearly two weeks less than expected.
Owned by Mitsubishi Corporation, the Pyxis Ocean was chartered by Cargill Ocean Transportation. Cargill’s President, Jan Dieleman said that the industry was ‘on a journey to decarbonise.’ Indeed, in July 2023 it pledged to reduce the estimated 837 million tonnes of CO2 it produces each year to zero by 2050, albeit with no clearly defined pathway. But experts say that wind power is a promising area to explore. ‘There is no silver bullet’, says Dieleman, ‘but this technology demonstrates how fast things are changing.’
Pyxis Ocean’s port of arrival, Paranagua is recognised for its infrastructure and capacity for innovation and is part of the state-owned company ‘Portos de Paraná’ a signatory of the UN Global Compact. It attracts vessels that align with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and will represent the global port sector at COP 28 in Dubai later this month.
Pyxis Ocean is a dry cargo vessel that carries grain – up to 81,000 tonnes of it – but sadly, Wind Wings are not suitable for all cargo ships. Those with containers piled high on their decks, for example, would find it difficult to lower the sails in port and the wings could interfere with the unloading of the containers. But Cargill have ordered five more of their ships to be fitted with them and this is at the very least one way to help the shipping industry to achieve net zero.