Oceanbird ship in the middle of the ocean

Upon construction, the world’s largest wind-powered vessel will carry 7,000 vehicles across the Atlantic in 12 days

No one has been able to use the ocean winds to power a cargo ship crossing the Atlantic with 7,000 cars in its hull, until now.

Soon, there will be a car-carrying vessel set to sail using wind as its primary source of power. Swedish consortium Wallenius Maritime recently presented its sailing cargo vessel the Oceanbird as a testament that the maritime industry can bring about significant change and that zero-emission shipping is possible, using wind as the primary energy source. Oceanbird is a concept for a PCTC (pure car and truck carrier) with a capacity to carry around 7,000 vehicles. According to the shipbuilder, it is high time to revert climate change and find ways to transport goods sustainably. The global shipping community needs to shift away from fossil fuel to renewable energy. 

“We are proud to present the third iteration of our design, which we have worked with for several years. Shipping is a central function in global trade and stands for around 90% of all transported goods, but it also contributes to emissions. It is critical that shipping becomes sustainable. Our studies show that wind is the most interesting energy source for ocean transports and with the 80-meter-high wing sails on Oceanbird, we are developing the ocean-going freighters of the future,” said Per Tunell, COO of Wallenius Marine.

Derived from a technically challenging project, the Oceanbird stems from the idea where the rigging and hull work together as a single unit to harness the wind in the most efficient way possible. The hull has been designed for a large sailing cargo vessel, and everything has been developed from this; speed, steering technology, hull shape and appearance, and the design and construction of the rigging. It is a mix of aerodynamic and shipbuilding technology. Performance and safety were evaluated using a combination of computer simulations and physical experiments. Once the first ship is completed, it will be the world’s largest sailing vessel.

The Oceanbird concept is being developed for enormous vessels designed to transport large, heavy cargoes over long distances for long periods. Its wing sails are made of metal and composite mixture towering at around 80 meters—twice the height of those on the largest sailing vessels around today. Moreover, a telescopic construction allows the rig to be lowered from 105 to 45 meters when the ship needs to pass under a bridge, or if strong winds make it necessary to reduce wing sail surface to reduce speed. The height above waterline, meantime, with the wing sails down, is about 45 meters. The vessel will be fitted with engines to enable maneuverability inside a port, and for an emergency operation. With a total displacement of 32,000 tons, the ship is capable of achieving an average speed of 10 knots.

“Our design features a unique combination where the hull and rigs work together as one unit and have been specifically optimized for sailing the oceans. With our configuration, the vessel will have an average speed of 10 knots on a typical Atlantic crossing. A North Atlantic crossing with Oceanbird will therefore take around 12 days, compared to the eight days it takes conventional vessels,” said Carl-Johan Söder, PhD Naval Architect, Wallenius Marine.

The Oceanbird reduces emissions by as much as 90%. The goal is to be able to operate freighters with zero emissions. This new wind-powered ship is about revolutionizing technology that will put an end to the era of fossil-driven cargo ships in maritime transport.

Once the first ship makes its maiden voyage, it will be a historical occasion for maritime transport. The United Nations specialized agency International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from international shipping by 40% by 2030.

The Oceanbird is a Swedish collaborative project between Wallenius Marine, KTH and SSPA. It is supported by the Swedish Transport Administration, which is acting as a co-financier. It is a cluster collaboration with experts from the public and private sectors and academia. Wallenius Marine, the project coordinator, owns the concept and is also contributing design and logistics expertise. KTH is addressing the challenges within areas such as aerodynamics, sailing mechanics and performance analysis. SSPA, on the other hand, is contributing its expertise on the development and validation of new testing methods. Also, in terms of aerodynamic/hydrodynamic simulation methods and risk simulation. This expertise will eventually be used to develop sailing vessels in other vessel segments.

Oceanbird is a flagship project for Swedish marine research. The project only proves that cooperation between industry and academia can lead to significant innovations in this high-tech society (Story and photo: Wallenius Marine and Oceanbird Wallenius)