Drawing on extensive experience in the field of rigid sail development, France’s VPLP Design has developed a two-element wingsail for commercial craft which is furlable, reefable and entirely automated.
Called Oceanwings, this new automated sailing system has been tested on small sail craft but is being developed for use as a sail assistance system for shipping.
VPLP Design’s interest in rigid sails started in 2010, when they were involved in the design of high performance America’s Cup sailing yachts. From this the Oceanwings team acquired real design expertise, and convinced them of the bright future awaiting this type of rig for use on commercial vessels. Despite their superior aerodynamic efficiency wingsails possess a fundamental hindrance to their use on commercial vessels, their rigidity. This limits their ability to reduce the surface area, which means that they can’t be reefed or furled like fabric sails.
“Oceanwings developed by VPLP Design is a practical solution for overcoming these obstacles and a significant step down the road to increasing the adoption of wingsails. We are offering a wind propulsion system that is reliable, simple and automated.” commented Marc Van Peteghem of VPLP. “We have developed a reefable and furlable rigging concept which exploits the aerodynamic qualities of multi-element profiles.”
Financial aid from ADEME, France’s environment and energy management agency, enabled VPLP Design to produce an 8m working prototype of the Oceanwings project, which was used to validate the feasibility, prove the system worked and acquire sailing data to fine-tune performance models developed in-house.
Entirely automated, self-supporting and rotating through 360°, Oceanwings adapts its angle of incidence to the vessel’s point of sail to ensure optimal propulsion. Power is managed by trimming camber and twist. “Not only does it provide exceptional control,” explains Nicolas Sdez, the engineer in charge of the project, “It is also efficient to the point of halving the surface area required to propel a vessel under conventional sail.” VPLP Design is developing several concepts which use this patented technology, such as the EMC cargo ships.
VPLP Design wanted to know just how big the fuel savings could be when operating Oceanwings in conjunction with a traditional combustion-engine propulsion system. “We have developed a software solution which allowed us to make statistical predictions about energy consumption on optimized passages.” said Marc Van Peteghem. “Depending on routes and vessels, we identified fuel consumption reductions of 18% to 42%. Even though wind propulsion achieves double-digit fuel savings its use must not mean carrying additional and specialist crew. In other words, automation has to be an essential feature. By integrating manufacturing considerations early in the design stage, VPLP has managed to ensure that costs are on a par with the purchase of a high-performance rig and can be quickly recovered by commercial operators.