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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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French Startup Aims To Slash Shipping Industry Emissions

  • Airseas is testing a 1,000-square-meter parasail called Seawing, a device that can be retrofitted onto existing sea vessels and aims to reduce shipping emissions by utilizing wind power for propulsion.
  • The startup has signed a 20-year deal with Japanese shipping company K Line to retrofit 51 of its ships with the Seawing and is now testing prototypes on commercial trips in partnership with Louis Dreyfus Armateurs and Airbus.
  • While the full operational details of Seawing are yet to be released, the company plans to finalize its manufacturing facility by 2026 and aims to reduce sea transport emissions by up to 20 percent with its product.

An increasing number of start-ups are emerging around the world, proposing innovative ideas to decarbonise different industries. Thanks to the development of favourable climate policies in several countries worldwide, encouraging greater research and innovation into clean energy sources and decarbonisation technologies, companies around the globe are developing innovative methods of cutting carbon, with varying levels of success. One such company is Airseas, which believes it has found a way to decarbonise shipping that relies on traditional methods of sea transportation. 

The French startup Airseas is proposing the use of its 1,000-square-meter parasail called the Seawing to reduce the carbon emissions of shipping. It can be used much like traditional boat sails to pull a ship across the ocean. However, it looks far more like a paraglider sail than traditional ship sails. The start-up aims to provide a device that can be retrofitted, meaning the sail can be attached to existing sea vessels. However, unlike on sailing boats, the crew will not manage the hoisting of the sail, rather it will be deployed using a special system – although the firm has yet to provide details about this equipment. The company has already tested a prototype that it says successfully launches, ascends, descends, and lands with only a few button pushes.

Airseas expects to complete its manufacturing facility by 2026, at which point it will begin producing the Seawing. It hopes the device to alleviate some of the stress on the vessel’s engines, meaning less fuel will be required to power the ship. But, so far, Airseas has provided little information on how the Seawing works in differing wind and weather conditions, particularly as engine-powered boats move faster than the wind. Related: Shell Expects ‘Significantly Lower’ Earnings From Gas Trading

Airseas is now testing its prototype on commercial trips, having partnered with Louis Dreyfus Armateurs and Airbus, which transport aircraft components between Europe and the U.S. The firm also signed a 20-year dealwith the Japanese shipping company K Line, with plans to retrofit 51 of the company’s ships with the Seawings sail. Airseas is extremely ambitious in its decarbonisation estimates, hoping to reduce sea transport emissions by up to 20 percent using its Seawing. 

The next steps of the testing phase include the gathering of performance data, dynamic flight testing, and fine-tuning the automation system ahead of commercial production. Airseas is planning to expand ahead of the opening of its production facility, increasing the number of a staff of 120 at present, including experts from the aerospace and maritime sectors, to 190 by the end of the year. Vincent Bernatets, the CEO of Airseas, statedof the progress “With these strong initial results, we’re more determined than ever to keep testing the system and collecting data, and accelerate our mission to scale up and rapidly deploy wind propulsion technology on vessels around the world. Immediate action is needed to tackle climate change and shipping’s impact on GHG emissions; we are proud to have a solution that can help ships reduce their emissions right now, and accelerate the decarbonisation of the maritime sector over the coming years.” 

In line with the Paris Agreement and new climate policies and pledges from several governments worldwide, there has been an increasing effort to decarbonise shipping. The global shipping industry contributes approximately 3 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The maritime industry transports around 90 percent of world commerce, meaning there is mounting pressure to develop a range of methods to decarbonise the sector. Further, the growth in demand for commercial shipping is expected to continue rising as trade becomes more globalised. If action is not taken, experts predict the sector could be responsible for between 10 and 13 percent of global emissions within the coming decades. 

The United Nations agency for shipping regulation aims to reduce ocean-vessel emissions by half by 2050, which will require a rapid switch to cleaner fuels. One of the more conventional methods of decarbonisation is the use of sustainable fuels rather than fossil fuels to power sea vessels. Fuels such as green ammonia, produced from green hydrogen, or biomass-derived fuels are likely to become commonplace in shipping, as companies look to decarbonise in line with state and international efforts to cut carbon emissions.

However, thanks to subsidies and grants made available through new climate policies, such as the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act and the EU Green Deal, a multitude of start-ups are now developing innovative, alternative ways to decarbonise. While many of these ideas may ultimately fail, some unexpected technologies could end up being key to a successful global green transition. In fact, many discoveries have come from either accidents or exploration into unlikely areas thanks to funding in research and development. So, while the jury’s still out on Airseas’ Seawings, either this or a similar new green technology could be pivotal in the transition to a greener future.  

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com 


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