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How Smart Green Shipping’s FastRig is making shipping greener

Learn about Smart Green Shipping’s retrofittable solution for harnessing wind power.

11 April 2024 | 5 minute read

Ships powered by wind enabled global trade to flourish for centuries, and now wind is pushing the shipping industry forward again. Enabling the move away from fossil-powered ships is Smart Green Shipping (SGS), an innovative company helping modern vessels harness the power of the wind using 21st century, digitally-enabled technology.

The shipping industry needs accessible, innovative solutions to help it reduce its emissions if it’s to meet essential net zero goals. The FastRig from SGS is a Scottish solution that can help the shipping industry’s greenhouse gas reductions.

The environmental impact of the shipping industry

The global shipping industry currently makes up 2% to 3% of total carbon emissions. Equivalent to that of the highest emitting developed economies, this figure reflects the scale of the industry and the urgent need for change. 

However, with the demand for moving raw materials and goods internationally increasing and geo-political disruptions affecting shipping activity, the emissions from shipping continue to grow.

As global demand leaves little option for fewer ships on the water, the need for sustainable alternatives to oil-based fuels (which have historically met over 99% of the total energy demand for international shipping) is urgent.

According to commercial advisory service UMAS, the shipping industry must cut its CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2040 to meet global climate goals.

While the industry is developing zero-emission vessels and exploring alternative fuels, it will take time for both the vessels and the infrastructure required to enable their use to be in place. As well as this, the higher cost and lower energy density of alternative fuels completely disrupts the industry’s existing business model.

As such, there is a need for a more immediate solution that can begin to cut into that 45% emission reduction requirement. This is where SGS comes in. 

Harnessing wind power

SGS is a systems design and engineering company based in Dumfries. 
Inspired by Scotland’s rich marine engineering history, the company is currently developing unique solutions to make commercial ships.

“We’ve got an eight-thousand-year history of using wind – we’re harnessing it in a 21st century way,” says Diane Gilpin, founder and CEO of SGS.

Inspired yacht racing state-of-the-art designs, which deploy wing sails that enable them to sail faster than the wind, SGS has developed robust, digitally enabled wing sails that can be retrofitted onto existing ships and new builds. They call this product the FastRigTM.

How the FastRig works

The FastRig is a retractable wing sail that can be retrofitted to the decks of existing commercial vessels such as bulkers and tankers.

Designed and manufactured in the UK from 100% recyclable materials (namely aluminium), the FastRig harnesses the wind to provide propulsive thrust to vessels.

This innovative solution reduces fuel consumption and can save approximately 30% fuel per year, depending on route, speed and ship size. As a result, it reduces operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

The FastRig works together with the FastRoute software solution, which plans routes for wind optimisation.

Gilpin notes that “the global fleet of merchant ships is somewhere in the order of sixty thousand, and the Department for Transport estimate that forty thousand of those ships are suitable for using wind technology”.

This means that tens of thousands of commercial vessels could use the FastRig to reduce emissions.

The challenges of this climate innovation

While installing and using the FastRig is easy, the journey SGS has been on to develop it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

“Without doubt the biggest challenge has been raising finance. It can be hard to raise climate finance because you need to access a lot of patient capital.

“It takes several years to conduct a full-scale, real-life research and development programme, and you need considerable amounts of money to do it.

“So, it’s a long time until investors start making a return on their investment.”

Another significant challenge is the issue of gender inequality within business investment. A recent government report found that for every £1 of equity investment in the UK, just two pence goes to fully female-founded businesses. As well as this, fewer women apply for funding – and when they do, they are less likely to receive it, and tend to receive significantly less than men.

Read the full Women-Led High-Growth Enterprise Taskforce report on GOV.UKopens in a new window 

Support from Scottish Enterprise

The main advice Diane Gilpin has for other companies that are considering developing much needed sustainable solutions is to have a very clear plan of what the ambition is and what they want to achieve.

“Being able to effectively communicate this is essential. The process of refining your messaging is critically important and working with Scottish Enterprise supported that.”

This wasn’t all we were able to support SGS with, though. We were pleased to give SGS a grant to support the development of the FastRig.

According to Diane, having the support of a government development agency boosted confidence in the project and allowed SGS to gather a group of investors who otherwise may have seen it as too risky.

“Scottish Enterprise made a huge effort to understand our business. They worked to understand the design systems we were creating and supported us through our application processes in a really collaborative way.”

“Scottish Enterprise also invested equity alongside the grant funding, and that really enabled us to move on with the next stage of our project.

“We can really see the future, how we can get to commercialisation, because we started with the support from Scottish Enterprise.”

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