Meeting the IMO’s Strict Guidelines with Wind-powered Cargo Ships

Innovation has played a significant role in logistics throughout history. To see how far innovation takes us, let’s go back in time to 3400 B.C.

That’s when the ancient Egyptians modernized shipping with the invention of sailing ships.

Since then the logistics industry has looked to innovation to modernize logistics. Later, the shipping industry moved on to steam-powered ships and then to fuel-powered ships. Innovation led to us faster and more powerful ships with greater mobility.

However, the current fuel-powered ships have one major drawback. They’re polluters, contributing more than 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. That’s unsustainable. And that’s why the IMO stepped in to regulate carbon emissions several years ago.

In particular, the IMO’s Zero Carbon Emission ruling mandates a goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Achieving this aggressive goal cannot be achieved without innovation. Consequently, stakeholders are pursuing several innovative ideas. But no one knows which idea will become commercially viable.

One intriguing, innovative idea employs the use of wind power. One company, Neoline takes us back to 3400 B.C., with the invention of sailing ships by ancient Egyptians. Currently, Neoline, is developing a modern, wind-powered ship using sails.

Neoline hopes to convert this ancient solution into a modernized, commercially viable wind-powered ship that will help in meeting IMO’s aggressive goal.

This blog post will look at the viability of pursuing wind power to help meet IMO’s decarbonization mandate.


Supporting IMO’s 2050 Mandate by Re-imaging the Sailboat

The IMO 2050 mandate is the impetus for developing a cargo vessel powered by wind. IMO’s guidelines are aggressive, but they leave the means to a solution open-ended. That makes wind-powered ships an option.

Besides other solutions like fuel-efficient engines or alternative fuels, Neoline has struck on the idea of re-imagining sailboats to transport cargo.

Neoline is a French company started by former Merchant Naval officers. Their charter is to find a better way to ship cargo in a sustainable way. In particular, Neoline’s mission is to find a way to propel cargo ships in a way that reduces carbon emissions.

At present, Neoline is on its way to delivering its first wind-powered vessel in 2023 and a second one in 2024. The ship is being designed to carry a variety of cargo from liquor, to auto tires, and leisure boats and more.

Here are Neoliner’s dimensions:

  • 136 meters long
  • 4,200 square meters of sails
  • 280 TEU
  • 500 Cars

Plus, the Neoliner, as a Roll-on Roll-off (Ro-Ro) ship has two ramps. These dual fore and aft ramps facilitate loading/unloading.


Far-fetched or Commercially-viable Innovation

At first blush, using sailboats to transport cargo seems doubtful. After all we’ve had the Industrial Revolution. Now we’re in the Information Age, which offers sophisticated technologies almost daily. You might ask whether wind-powered solution is a step forward or backward.

The first question to ask is whether the use of sailboats to transport cargo makes sense?

There’s more to this answer than meets the eye. Let’s look at some facts to answer that question.


Advantages of Wind-powered Ships 

First, the IMO 2050 mandate has unleashed all manner of research and development for sustainable solutions. Now, research into wind-power appears to be a viable alternative. A wind-powered cargo ship like the Neeoliner can reduce carbon emissions by 90%. That’s not insignificant and makes wind-power a contender.

Second, many companies are under pressure by the corporate social responsibility movement (CSR). That’s aside from what governments may do. CSR’s goal is to promote alternative energy over fossil fuels.

CSR is becoming more powerful as it targets companies as well as banks investing in fossil fuels. Interestingly, India’s government has adopted and mandated CSR into law. All in all, CSR will give a wind-powered solution a boost by pressuring stakeholders to adopt a viable solution sooner rather than later.

Third, shipping cargo via a wind-powered ship is cost-efficient. It offers stability in operating costs by avoiding fluctuating fuel prices. The Neoliner also avoids the penalties of IMO 2050, since it’s a solution that meets the IMO’s goals.

Fourth, the Neoliner can offer reduced shipping rates. With reduced operating costs, that may stimulate the popularity of wind-powered shipping. This should also help reduce future procurement costs, as wind-powered ship production becomes more cost-efficient.

Fifth, the Neoliner may offer some capacity relief. As production of wind-powered ships increases with increased adoption, they may add capacity for shipping cargo. Although not a certainty, there’s a potential to offset the squeeze on cargo capacity.

Disadvantages of Wind-powered Ships 

Wind-powered ships have many advantages, but there is one disadvantage: extended shipping time. Currently, the Neoliner is being built for trans-Atlantic shipping.

Shipping time between the U.S. and Europe is approximately ten days. That compares to six to eight days for a typical cargo ship, depending on the speed. That comes to twenty-seven to forty-five percent slower.

Although, wind-powered ships may be slower, you can mitigate longer transit times by shipping cargo that’s not time-sensitive. You can further mitigate long shipping time by advance planning and diligent scheduling.

Another disadvantage is that the production of the Neoliner will take time to reach critical mass. But that’s true of any innovation. Looking at this more closely, this is only a temporary drawback. As demand for wind-powered vessels increases production and costs will decline, mitigating this drawback.

So, while not an immediate solution, wind-powered ships are gaining in popularity. Many companies have already contracted with Neoline, and its client list is growing.

Here’s a sample list of current and prospective clients:

  • Renault
  • Michelien
  • Jas Hennessy & Company
  • Manitou Group
  • Group Beneteau

Each of these companies sees the Neoliner as a viable solution to IMO 2050. They see this as a way to reduce their carbon footprint and shipping costs. Michelien, for example, hopes to reduce its carbon emissions 15 percent by 2030.

So it’s not a stretch to say that wind-power has a future in international cargo shipping. It may represent a niche in the near and mid-term. But wind-powered shipping appears promising in the long-term.

As wind-power demonstrates its economic viability, production will likely increase. That may also lead to the production of even larger vessels as demand increases.

Wind-powered ships offer many advantages. Depending on your needs, the benefits may offset the downside of longer transit time. That said, it’s fair to conclude wind-powered ships offer a viable shipping alternative.


Reducing Carbon Emissions with Wind-powered Cargo Ships  

Innovation has always been a part of logistics. We saw that with the creation of sailing ships in 3400 BC. And innovation by its nature is dynamic. That is, it disrupts the status quo.

Today, innovation is playing a leading role in achieving regulatory compliance. Specifically, stakeholders see innovation as a means to reducing shipping’s carbon footprint.

As logistics becomes more complex, it tends to breed uncertainty. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, but it also breeds opportunity. This is where a 3PL like American Global Logistics can help.

We’re a 3PL dedicated to our clients’ success. We ensure that by keeping a watchful eye on innovations in the logistics industry. We’re in tune with today’s best practices, but we’re also on top of tomorrow’s innovations.

We’re always looking for unique solutions to practical problems. Think capacity constraints and high fuel shipping costs.

Contact us today to see how we can help guide you through the maze of shipping challenges. Let’s work together to make the obstacles facing shipping a thing of the past.