Innovation at full sail for more sustainable ships
The start-up bound4blue, co-founded by Spanish engineer David Ferrer-Desclaux, has designed sails for ships that are inspired by aeroplane wings, which promise to revolutionize maritime transport by reducing its environmental impact.
Despite being from Ibiza, David Ferrer-Desclaux never had a particularly special relationship with the sea. He was neither attracted by water sports nor passionate about the oceans. Today, however, his life navigates in a set direction – innovating to achieve a maritime transport ecosystem that is more sustainable and less polluting.
During his time at university in Catalonia, this Spanish aerospace engineer began to ask himself certain questions. Although at that time his studies focused on research into air navigation, Ferrer-Desclaux wanted to go one step further and began to make comparisons with the maritime industry – why do boats not use sail systems based on aircraft technology to reduce their fuel consumption? Can aerospace engineering be applied to sea transport?
Years later, those questions ended up being the impetus for the start-up bound4blue, which was founded in 2015. That year, this small company introduced to the market an innovative piece of technology to reduce emissions in the global maritime industry and to control costs associated with fuel.
Bound4blue’s proposal consists of a system of rigid folding sails that resemble aeroplane wings and that can be installed on merchant ships, tankers, fishing boats and passenger vessels. What’s more, these sails orient themselves autonomously to maximize the power of the wind, reducing engine use and saving fuel.
The rigid sails feature an internal steel structure and a fibreglass outer casing. They have an automated system that gives them complete independence – they self-deploy, are oriented according to wind conditions and can rotate up to 360 degrees, while maintaining the boat’s stability and speed. In addition, the masts are fully retractable so that vessels can access ports without their course having to be altered because of cranes or bridges.
The direct impact of these innovative sails, according to Ferrer-Desclaux, is that they make transport cheaper and reduce emissions: “They can help boats to save between 10% and 40% of fuel and they have a payback period of less than five years“.
The year that the company launched was not a coincidence, rather it coincided with news from the International Maritime Organization warning that in 2020 there would be new regulations to reduce sulphur and CO2 emissions from the transport of goods by sea. Ferrer-Desclaux recognizes that he saw his opportunity: “I had no doubts then that this was the right time to propose a more sustainable alternative”.
Thanks to his visionary approach, Ferrer-Desclaux became one of the winners of the Innovators under 35 Europe 2018 awards granted by MIT Technology Review in Spanish. In fact, his technology is already being tested in small-scale prototypes on land and will now progress to units being installed on a large scale on boats.
This year they have signed agreements with four shipowners to place demonstrators on several types of vessels. One of them is the Fura dels Baus theatre vessel, which also innovates in its sector and is taking the arts across the oceans to commemorate 500 years since the circumnavigation of the globe by Magallanes and Elcano. So in this case, as with the other agreements, the lighthouse that guides bound4blue is innovation, sailing full sail towards a less contaminated planet.