Quantifying voyage optimisation with wind-assisted ship propulsion: a new climate mitigation strategy for shipping

  • James Mason

Student thesis: Phd


The international shipping sector requires deep and rapid reductions in carbon dioxide within the coming decade to align emissions trajectories with the Paris Agreement goals. Wind propulsion, also known as wind-assisted ship propulsion, offers the sector a viable short-term retrofit option to respond to this challenge, where sails provide renewable power to reduce emissions from a ship's engine. Research shows that combining wind propulsion with voyage optimisation allows the ship to deviate from its standard route to search for beneficial wind, which can facilitate substantial additional carbon savings. The research in this thesis addresses key knowledge gaps in the area of wind-assisted voyage optimisation. In particular, the carbon reductions available from combining these technologies on globally distributed international shipping routes is unknown. No study quantifies the carbon savings alongside reduced speeds, or demonstrates how significantly this portfolio of short-term measures can contribute to the sector's decarbonisation targets. The work in this thesis computationally models voyage optimisation with wind propulsion to estimate the carbon savings on thirteen globally distributed shipping routes. Findings from this thesis demonstrate that four Flettner rotors can reduce the carbon emissions from an 80,000 DWT Panamax bulk carrier ship by 10.5% relative to contemporary operations, increasing up to 17.0% when using voyage optimisation under current operational practices. Add speed reductions and flexible arrival times to the mix, and carbon savings increase to 44% with a one-fifth increase in arrival time. This new method is the first to estimate the potential for significant carbon savings on a global distribution of routes using this strategy. In particular, the findings illustrate how voyage optimisation can transform initially unfavourable routes into routes that are ideal for Flettner rotor technology and challenge the mainstream understanding that wind propulsion is only a niche carbon saving measure. Crucially, this analysis highlights that significant short-term carbon reductions are feasible, providing a clear steer to the sector that it is practical and appropriate to strengthen their decarbonisation targets to bring them in line with the Paris Agreement goals.
Date of Award31 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAlice Larkin (Supervisor) & John Broderick (Supervisor)


  • Decarbonisation
  • Weather routing
  • Climate change
  • Wind propulsion
  • International shipping
  • Voyage optimisation

Cite this