Cargill Pushes for Wind Power in Shipping Industry’s Decarbonization Efforts

In a bold move towards greener shipping practices, Cargill’s head of ocean transport has urged the shipping industry to embrace wind power as a viable solution for decarbonization. As the world grapples with the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, one of the largest marine freight operators is taking a step forward by testing the utilization of sails on a mid-sized vessel.

Jan Dieleman, the president of Cargill’s shipping business, called for a shift in perspective, challenging the skepticism of some shipowners regarding wind-powered propulsion. He highlighted that the shipping industry had been focused primarily on zero-carbon fuels, often overlooking the potential of wind power, which has been used for centuries by sailors. Dieleman emphasized that wind power had been “underestimated” and stressed the need for innovation.

Dieleman’s comments come amidst a crucial debate among nations on how to decarbonize the international shipping industry, responsible for transporting up to 90 percent of global trade. Despite this critical role, the industry remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels, prompting regulatory pressure and demands from major customers like Amazon, Unilever, and Ikea for zero-emission shipping by 2040.

Cargill has ventured into wind ship propulsion before. In 2011, the company partnered with German firm SkySails to install a massive sail on the Aghia Marina cargo ship. While the project faced hurdles, Cargill’s renewed commitment to wind power is evident as it unveils the Pyxis Ocean bulk carrier – chartered by Cargill and owned by Mitsubishi – retrofitted with two impressive 37.5-meter-high sails. With the capacity to transport up to 81,000 tonnes of cargo, this vessel is set to make its maiden journey, carrying corn from Brazil to Denmark.

Despite its dedication to sustainability, Cargill acknowledges that the shipping industry’s transformation cannot rest solely on its shoulders. Dieleman explained that the trading house couldn’t bear all the risk, noting that profitability might be a challenge in the early stages of investing in wind-powered vessels. However, the potential cost savings from wind power and the high prices of low-carbon alternatives like green methanol or ammonia make wind power a compelling option if proven successful.

Governments are also backing wind power’s resurgence. Last year, several countries, including France and Spain, submitted a paper to the UN’s International Maritime Organization, asserting that wind propulsion systems were mature enough to contribute to emissions reduction. Climate experts concur that wind power can indeed play a role in decarbonizing shipping, albeit within certain limitations. While sails may be generally feasible, they might be less practical on container ships with limited deck space or routes with unfavorable wind patterns.

For its part, Cargill is resolute in its commitment to reducing emissions by 30 percent in its supply chain by 2030. Dieleman stressed that wind power is just one aspect of the complex puzzle required to achieve this goal. He emphasized the necessity of deploying various strategies, including biofuels, to drive real change in the industry. Dieleman warned that progress would be insufficient without significant transformation, leaving the industry far from its decarbonization targets.

As the industry strives to reduce its carbon footprint, stronger regulatory incentives are crucial to prompt shipping companies to invest in sustainable technologies. In July, the International Maritime Organization set a target for net-zero emissions from shipping “by or around” 2050. While considered a step forward, critics argued that this timeline allows too much leeway, potentially delaying the industry’s decarbonization.

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