Reinventing sails to save the seas >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News


We see them, we need them, but what are they doing to the planet? Maybe sailing can come to the rescue. In this report from The Big Idea, the Spanish startup bound4blue is reinventing sailing to make the maritime industry more sustainable:


If the shipping industry were a country, it would be the sixth most polluting in the world, just ahead of Germany. And despite the industry’s questionable environmental credentials, 90% of global freight is still shipped by sea.

Cristina Aleixendri, a Spanish aerospace engineer, believes secular sailing is the way to reduce pollution from shipping.

“The Phéoniciens went around the world with sails; but the industry abandoned this technology because it was not suitable – it was not economically viable, ”she says.

But the company has evolved since the days of the Phéonicians, so Aleixendri and his Barcelona-based co-founders at bound4blue set out to build a sail that’s efficient enough for the shipping lines of the 21st century.

The first boat to use a bound4blue sail left Panama last month.

What problem does it solve?
Today there are 80,000 ships sailing in the world and the fuel they use contains a lot of pollutants and produces carbon dioxide.

A change in regulations from the International Maritime Organization in 2020 forced all ships to use “marine diesel” rather than heavier fuel oils. Before the change, the 16 largest ships in the ocean produced more sulfur than any car in the world. The new fuel is a little less polluting, but it is not at all perfect because it still requires fossil fuels.

It is also much more expensive for the shipping companies, which are already grappling with the costs. Fuel is the industry’s fastest flow, accounting for 60% of operating costs.

Delays in the supply chain during the pandemic have further inflated fuel prices.

The installation of the bound4blue sail can reduce the amount of fuel consumed by 30%, which saves costs and sends less pollutants into the sea. If the ships travel on more windy roads, like the Atlantic roads, the company estimates the savings could reach 40%.

Since cost is a big issue in the industry, bound4blue says the savings from sails means they pay their installation costs within five years.

How it works?
“We use the physics of an airplane, but instead of using this elevator to make the ship, we use it to propel it,” says Aleixendri.

The wing, which is rigid, uses an aerodynamic profile: a structure used in airplane wings that gives a favorable lift and drag ratio to create flight.

Instead of creating upward propulsion, the sail generates forward propulsion, allowing boats to use their engines at a lower capacity. There is also a fan inside each sail which directs the air in the right direction to optimize the thrust.

The sails are fully self-contained, so they don’t need additional crew on board to operate them, turning to maximize the wind in the direction it is blowing.

How’s the first boat going?
Bound4blue has installed its first sail on an existing fishing boat in Panama. The fishing industry is particularly interested in cost savings, Aleixendri explains, because companies typically operate smaller fleets and cannot buy fuel in bulk like large freight companies can.

One of the company’s engineers will be on board for the next few months to monitor the inaugural ship and make modifications if necessary. Although the trip data is not complete, Aleixendri says early indications are good.

Who else is working to make the maritime industry greener?
Bound4blue isn’t the first company to try to modify sailing for 21st century industries. Aleixendri says there was a surge of interest in the 1980s as fuel prices peaked, but as prices recovered, industry interest waned.

There is also hope that renewable energy can be used to power engines, but it is not yet produced in a way that is suitable for industry.

“Renewable fuels will not be competitive today,” says Aleixendri. “They will be competitive in the future. For example, they talk about ammonia hydrogen fuel, but today these types of fuels are not produced in a sustainable manner. ”

And after?
Bound4blue is now waiting for data from the fishing vessel that left Panama. The company is also working on deploying a ship with a much larger sail, and the company also has several partnerships in place.


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