B9 Shipping developing 100 percent fossil fuel-free cargo sailing ships


June 22, 2012

B9 Shipping's sailing cargo ships would feature a Dyna-rig sail system

B9 Shipping's sailing cargo ships would feature a Dyna-rig sail system

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Ireland-based B9 Shipping has started work on a full-scale demonstration vessel as part of its goal to design the modern world’s first 100 percent fossil fuel-free cargo sailing ships. Unlike most conventional large cargo vessels, which are powered by bunker fuel, B9 Shipping’s cargo ship would employ a Dyna-rig sail propulsion system combined with an off-the-shelf Rolls-Royce engine powered by liquid biomethane derived from municipal waste.

The company says all of the technologies that will be used in its cargo vessels are already proven and readily available. The Dyna-rig sail system was originally conceived in the 1960s by German hydraulics engineer Wilhelm Prolls and was first used by Italian shipbuilders Perini Navi in its 289 ft (88 m) clipper, The Maltese Falcon, which made its maiden voyage in 2006. The free standing and free rotating system has no rigging and comprises multiple relatively small sails that are operated electronically from the bridge. This allows them to be trimmed quickly to maximize wind power and turned out of the wind in the event of sudden squalls.

The Dyna-rig sail system is expected to provide around 60 percent of the vessel’s thrust, with the remainder coming from a biogas-powered Rolls Royce engine. The biogas will be produced by the anaerobic digestion (AD) of food waste and other commercial and industrial organic waste. B9 Shipping’s sister company, B9 Organic Energy, has recently sunk money into a 50,000 tonne per annum AD plant in Dungannon, Northern Ireland, to demonstrate the biofuel production technology.

To demonstrate the engineering and economic validity of its fossil fuel-free cargo ship design, B9 Shipping has started work on a full-scale demonstration vessel, wile a testing program, which is set to begin this month, is being conducted at the University of Southampton’s Wolfson Unit for Marine Technology and Industrial Aerodynamics (WUMTIA). This will involve tow tank and wind tunnel research using a scale model to identify a basic hull design and how it interacts with the Dyna-rig system.

The testing program will also examine the calibration of the thrust from the sailing rig with various hull shapes to ensure the maximum efficiencies in a wide range of wind and sea conditions, whilst conforming to the loading, unloading and port constraints of commercial cargo vessels. Once the towing tank and wind tunnel testing has been completed and the data validated, the company will undertake an economic analysis of the designs later in the year.

"We are designing B9 Ships holistically as super-efficient new builds transferring technology from offshore yacht racing combined with the most advanced commercial naval architecture,” says Diane Gilpin, Director of B9 Shipping. “We're combining proven technologies in a novel way to develop 'ready-to-go' future-proof and 100 per cent fossil fuel free ships.”

Here's a video from B9 Shipping outlining the technology they will use in their cargo sailing ship design.

Source: B9 Shipping

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I do wonder whether it would make sense to put superthin solar cells (like there are in development) on the sails. Maybe with a sort of rig to rotate them upwards. That way one could use them combined with an electric motor for propulsion when there is no wind blowing.


Next - an oil supertanker powered by wind!

Bob Fately

I would think that wing sails would be more efficient and better in bad conditions (they don't need to be trimmed). As in the land sailing record vehicle.

William Volk

If they were to combine new electronic systems they could use turbines that drop into the water when going say 12-14 knots-lose two knots of speed but create enough power to then run for 6-8 hours at 6 knots for free basically.


Solar power is too expensive, too inefficient, and too delicate for a working cargo ship. I'd think you could more easily employ wave generators that harness the up/down motion of waves and convert them into linear propulsion.


I was about to say something similar to Skipjack. If they were to use the new flexible solar cells on those huge sails, it would soak up electricity while sailing and could charge batteries for electric motors when there wasn't sufficient wind. Then there'd be no need for burning even the waste oil (which of course, still pollutes the air and some ongoing costs for the shipping companies.)

Dave Andrews

Is the RR engine piston or Turbine?


Wind is great, sky sail great. rigid sails are great but large sails on large ships are a mistake. They simply do not produce enough power. They could also be very dangerous in high winds.

Michael Mantion
I think this is wonderful news. And it is wise that they do also carry an engine as hurricanes and large sailing vessels don't get along well at all. This way they are certain to be able to stay out of a storm's path. Six years ago a large sailing vessel and crew set out of Miami to avoid a hurricane while in port. Apparently sailing vessel at anchor, in port can rarely survive. All hands lost at sea and no trace of wreckage at all. Not even life preservers. Most people have no real clue as to what a hurricane in the tropics can be like. One rogue wave, immediately after the storm was observed to be 150 feet tall. Jim Sadler

It would not be as efficient but some sturdy Savonius wind turbines could power a ship and charge batteries for when there is no wind. It wouldn't require any adjustments for wind direction. It is also possible to have an optional direct mechanical link to the screws to correct for some of the inefficiency.


There was a Japanese ship with sails about the same size in Tacoma, WA back in the Eighties. Nothing new.


I would suggest using these sails in combination with large kites and underwater generators to charge up batteries for electric motors. The combination of kite and sail power would result in a great deal of forward force, sufficient for charging during peak wind hours without affecting the speed of the vessel. The generator could be of a moveable type that would be deployed only during good winds.

Adrian Akau

Three things come to mind. Sailing ships lean quite a bit in anything but a land'sman breeze (directly from behind). It is quite common to be @30 degrees from the vertical. Container ships would have big problems with that much lean, even if the cargo does not shift.

Second thing is "Flutter Power" any vertical or horizontal rope, sail, spar, or mast could be used to produce electric power from flutter. (flags or pennants would deliver in all directions.)

And third, Solar panels would work better on the hull from the waterline up, than they would on the sails. (the wind may have nothing in common with the sun) and the sunlight off the ocean would act like a mirror and increase the efficiency of the solar panels.


Warhead, you may want to do a little reading, the cost of solar panels has dropped about 80% in the last three years and they're still falling. For utility scale systems the panels are now one of the cheapest parts, the cost to acquire land for a solar arm is more then the panels.

Robert Smithers
Sails are going to be your best bet on many routes. They catch more power for less money. These though unless they can be reffed in 30seconds or so, this ship will eventually flip. I do fast sailboats for fun and profit.

As Volk said, wingsails are more seaworthy and more eff. The Planesail or other autorotating design is what you need as you can just set it to neutral and it'll just weathervane.

Biomethane takes a lot of energy to compress. There are batteries cheap, long lasting like molten salt, enough to charge when winds are good and run when not as other here mentioned with say ethanol or boidiesel as backup.


For moving a big cargo ship, you will need energy dense solutions or it's not going to be worth its money and time. Wind is in good supply at sea and with scalable sails proportional to the size of the ship, it's a good idea for supplying some thrust.

Solar's only use is to drive electronic equipment on board. It's not enough to push a ship this size forward. It's simpler to have a generator running of its biomethane fuel generating heat and electricity.

I like the use of municipal waste, although pressurizing gaseous biomethane to a liquid costs energy. Guess where that energy is going to come from. It's a good idea storing it energy density wise on a ship, but the true energy net gain is when you deduct the energy required for pressurizing, transport and keeping it pressurized.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret

I've seen methane used as fuel for generators at a sewage treatment plant. It is very corrosive and breakdowns in intake, engine and exhaust are very common. That's why you don't see it used. Not to mention the smell. I see too many potential problems and expenses to make it work.

Larry Hoffman

re; Lawrence Hoffman It is not the methane bio or otherwise that is causing the breakdown it is impurities that will be removed by the time the fuel is loaded onto the ship. As for the problems with the engines burning bio-gas at the sewage processing plants that is a result of bad design. They probably just bought low bid methane burning engines.


Max height (galibo) for the bridge of the Americas (Panama Canal) is 65 mts.

Raul Zalles

re; Raul Zalles

There are a lot of shipping routes that do not require using the Panama or any other canal.


The sail itself could be made of piezo electric material, along with the solar panels, to generate energy. There could be wind turbines too. Plus there could be an advanced Hull design. There could be tethered a large solar panel platform behind,. If the sails are round they could rotate and generate energy. Hydrogen could be produced at sea and power it.

Dawar Saify

The sails have to be collapsible or they become a huge drag in no wind or unfavorable wind conditions.

IIRC some cargo ships in the 80's tried using some rigid, rotatable sails but they were soon abandoned because they increased fuel consumption when there wasn't enough wind or the wind wasn't blowing the right way for where the ship needed to go.

Big sailing ships make me think of that 1957 Plymouth commercial, Suddenly... It's 1960.

Suddenly... It's 1760.

Gregg Eshelman

Great article on a transportation system that could take you around the world propelled by hot air.

John Gilmore

hello would you like to test this in the caribbean message me and we will set it up.

Immie Ran
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