Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

Future ships could be powered by wind to fight climate change

Published: 22 February 2023
Smart ship floating in the sea
FastRig wing-sails developed by UK company Smart Green Shipping

Ships of the future could once again be powered by wind if a pioneering project which retrofits large vessels with ultramodern wing-sails proves successful in cutting carbon emissions.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have received funding from Innovate UK to investigate the potential of the technology as part of efforts to decarbonise the UK’s maritime sector.

The research team intends to create new software tools which accurately predicts how modern vessels perform on the ocean when fitted with the FastRig wing-sails, developed by UK company Smart Green Shipping.

Lead scientist Dr Joseph Banks, from Southampton’s Marine and Maritime Institute, said that global shipping needs to decarbonise quickly.

He added: “Ships powered by wind is obviously nothing new – but almost every large vessel operating today is powered by fossil fuels, leaving a lasting mark on the environment. While new wind-assist technologies are being developed, many are not ready for market and their predicted fuel savings have not been independently verified at sea, which is why UK-funded research projects like this are so important.”

The grants for the Winds of Change project, the collaboration between Southampton and Smart Green Shipping, was provided by the Department for Transport and Innovate UK, which is working to transform the UK into a world-leader for generating clean maritime equipment.

As part of the two-year development programme, scientists will test the impact of a retractable 20metre-high FastRig wing-sail retrofitted on a commercial ship.

Dr Banks added: “This is an innovative project because the technology can be retrofitted to pre-existing vessels to quickly reduce emissions from the existing ships and help create quieter, emission-free ships in the future that do no harm to ocean environments and improve air quality in ports towns and cities. Many of our students on the Ship Science and Maritime Engineering programmes are keen sailors so this is a perfect way to combine sailing technology with commercial shipping to benefit society.

“Our team of researchers will investigate the complex interactions between the wing-sails and the ship hydrodynamics enabling accurate predictions of vessel performance which will be compared to a demonstration vessel as part of the project. This will require innovative numerical simulations backed up by experiments conducted in our highly instrumented 138metre Boldrewood towing tank and RJ Mitchell wind tunnel.”

Experts from Southampton’s Marine and Maritime Institute hope their new tool, which predicts the fuel savings delivered by the wing-sails, will drive further investment in the UK’s marine technology sector and encourage the next generation into the exciting field of Maritime Engineering.

Smart Green Shipping CEO Diane Gilpin said: “I’m thrilled that the UK is demonstrating ongoing faith in our FastRig technology, which holds the key to rapidly reducing emissions from shipping. Climate science is clear that shipping must rapidly reduce emissions in the short term. Wind power harnessed using sophisticated digital software and well-engineered equipment is at present the fastest way for the sector to reduce fuel consumption and related emissions.”

Read more about the world-leading technologies and research being developing by the University of Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute:


Privacy Settings