Disruption mindset comes to marine
Automated wind propulsion company Bound4Blue shows a promising route forward for disruptors in the marine sector.
Recent decades have seen unprecedented disruption across multiple industries, as digital-first upstarts swept aside corporate titans that were unable to match the newcomers’ smarter and slicker ways of doing things. Amazon, Netflix, Uber and AirBnB reimagined entire industries and processes around the consumer, changing our world.
Digital technologies were the enabler for all these brands, but the truly disruptive factor was new ways of thinking about existing value chains and business models – not disruption for the sake of disruption, but solving problems in innovative ways.
That is certainly how Cristina Aleixendri Munoz, co-founder of automated wind-assisted propulsion company Bound4Blue, thinks about disruption.
“I prefer to view myself as a problem solver,” she says. “For me, innovation is not a question of having new ideas, but rather throwing away old convictions and changing the paradigms. Using old technologies, such as sails, in a radically different way… can have a profound impact on the future of our world.”
The risk averse and safety driven maritime sector isn’t typically associated with disruptive technologies, but this is set to change as the industry faces up to enormous challenges that won’t – and can’t – be solved by ‘business as usual’.
“We’ve taken an abandoned idea (traditional sails) and thought outside the box, therefore designing and developing a novel technology that fits the market’s needs and at the same time has the potential to offer a huge emissions reduction,” Munoz says.
The firm’s autonomous rigid sails produce thrust by harnessing the power of the wind, adjusting automatically to its direction and using suction to adhere the airflow to the sail. This reduces the amount of power required from the main engine.
“We have also found a way to change the mindset of a traditional industry towards adopting cleantech and innovative solutions, which is clearly shown by the installations and contracts signed, as well as by the increase of enquiries from shipowners asking for the technology.”
The key to this, says Munoz, is making sure there was a “product-market fit”, working in collaboration with the industry to design the solution that offered the best balance between price and efficiency, alongside a safety-first approach. She says the resulting cuts in fuel consumption and pollutant emissions can deliver a payback on investment within five years.
Not just plain sailing
Cristina Aleixendri Munoz, co-founder of Bound4Blue
According to Munoz, the biggest barriers to disruption and innovation in the maritime sector are risk perception, access to financing, and collaboration and knowledge sharing. For all of these, there are potential solutions – a changed attitude to risk assessment, new financing mechanisms such as ‘hardware as a service’, and increased collaboration to break down silos and stimulate innovative thinking.
She admits it has been hard work to reach the point where the Spanish company has signed deals to install its eSAIL technology on a range of ships across multiple geographies.
In 2021, it installed a 12-metre-high and a fully tiltable 17-metre-high suction sail on a longliner and on a general cargo ship respectively, the latter being the largest suction sail ever built and installed on a ship.
This record will be smashed, however, when it installs four 26-metre-high suction sails on Marubeni’s Crimson Kingdom bulk carrier in 2023/24, saving up to 20% on annual fuel costs and CO2 emissions.
“We still need to work even harder to bring it to new heights and make wind propulsion a standard in shipping,” she said. “To do so, you need the right strategy and implementation, a unified team and a purpose-driven culture, scalable systems and processes, a customer-centric approach and agility.”
Bound4Blue’s emissions-saving solution sits squarely in the matrix of disruptive technologies identified by the IMarEST last year in its report Disruptive Technologies in the Marine Sector: 2023 and Beyond. The report, based on a survey and consultation exercise with the chairs of the Institute’s Special Interest Groups and Technical Leadership Board, identified the key disruptive technologies as falling into three categories: energy transition, AI and autonomy. These technologies could well reshape the future of shipping, and with it our world.
Amy McLellan is a journalist and author. She was previously editor of Energy Day.