The Power of Wind

This interview by Emanuela Barbiroglio is published in The Beam #12. Order it to read more on the subject.


Shipowners and operators may be able to decrease their fuel-related costs and pollutant emissions up to 30%, thanks to a new system created by Bound4blue. The Spanish company aims at delivering automated wind assisted propulsion systems (also called wingsails) that can be integrated onto a wide range of vessels. The Beam spoke with one of the founders, José Miguel Bermúdez.


Who are the people behind Bound4blue?

The project was founded by Cristina Aleixendri, David Ferrer and me, José Miguel Bermúdez. The three of us are aeronautical engineers, which clearly served as the foundation of the technology developed. We found soft sails installed in sailing boats or yachts, but none in commercial vessels. We believed we could apply our knowledge in aeronautics to build a high-lift device for the shipping industry adapted to its requirements, that could be the solution to the two showstopper challenges they are facing: high fuel operating expenses and emissions reduction pressure from international entities.

We have been selected as one of Europe’s most promising innovators under 35 by MIT and featured amongst the 30 brightest industry European entrepreneurs under the age of 30 by Forbes. The design, manufacture and launch of scientific capsules to the space, the construction of efficient wind towers or the deployment of Geodetic Quality Sea-Ice drift buoys in the Arctic are some examples that precede our team and that mark a business and technological trajectory for Bound4blue.

The team is nowadays formed by 15 people, who combine several expertise in different fields of business and engineering, including aerospace engineering, naval architects, electronics engineering, statisticians and mechanical engineering.

How exactly does the automated wind assisted propulsion systems work? Can we talk about renewable energy in this case?

Bound4blue’s wingsail system generates effective thrust from wind power and thereby reduces the engine power required, saving fuel and pollutant emissions. For example, one of the latest cases we are working on is a Handysize (183-meter length) vessel, operating in the route Busan (South Korea) – Seattle (US). In this case, installing two 30-meter units of our system, we can save more than 940 tons of fuel per year, which represents more than 2,900 tons of CO2 savings per year, with an investment payback period of less than three years. Having successfully passed all the tests in the prototyping phase and being within the pilot phase, our systems are now being implemented on four ships.

So to sum up, of course we can talk about renewable energy in this case. The only source we are using in the overall process is the wind power, which is directly used to propel the ships with no intermediate energy conversion. In the end and from a conceptual point of view, it is the same process that humanity has been using for thousands of years, using the wind to navigate.


Chemical tanker. © bound4blue Chemical tanker. © bound4blue


What makes this technology innovative?

Bound4blue’s innovative technology is a creative application of an already existing one. Wind was once used centuries ago to propel vessels, so it is as simple as going back to the basics but using 21st century aeronautical technology. The solution was inside the industry from the very beginning, but we were able to take our aeronautical knowledge and build it on top of an ancient concept to create Bound4blue’s solution. The challenge we had to deal with was adapting this technology to commercial vessels and finding solutions to problems that are specific to those vessels.

Our technology is capable of providing double-digit fuel savings and emissions reduction with a payback below five years, it can be folded (useful for fleets with air-draft or operations limitations), it has extended operability thanks to the rotation capability and it works with a simple and fully autonomous operation, so no extra training or workload from the crew is required.

What can be its impact on the shipping sector? How can it help reduce emissions in the long term?

Maritime transport is a key industry for our society, transporting over 80% of the worldwide cargo. However, its pollutant emissions are a major environmental challenge. Maritime transport accounts for 3% of the global CO2 emissions, 15% of NO worldwide emissions and 13% of SO2 global emissions; it is having a direct impact on our planet in forms of global warming or acid rain, and being responsible of 14 million cases of childhood asthma each year and 60,000 cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths annually. In fact, maritime transport generates as much CO2 as the sixth most polluting country in the world, and the 16 largest vessels in the world generate the same amount of Sulphur emissions as the entire global fleet of cars.

Our technology reduces the emissions produced in the maritime transport of cargo and people by decreasing the use of fossil fuel with the same level of energy used by the ship. According to the Impact Forecast Analysis we carried out using the Climate Impact Forecast tool, more than 590 thousand tons of CO2 emissions will be saved in the following five years due to Bound4blue’s forecasted installations. So our technology will be a massive emission saver in the upcoming years. Also, our solution provides huge opportunities to modernise the infrastructure which will create new jobs and promote greater prosperity across the globe.

What kind of setbacks have you encountered and what kind of support helped you get through? Where will future endeavours bring you?

As with any product development, there is a risk of obtaining lower performances and not achieving the desired economic viability for the market. The technological and practical feasibility have been proven so far by our land prototypes and the demo is being run for merchant and fishing vessels.

Bound4blue’s solution is highly capital intensive, but we have already succeeded in raising over €5.8 million contribution from private investors and grants. In this type of venture, there is always a risk of slow market acceptance and adoption, but interest in the product has already been proven. Bound4blue has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund throughout several projects granted by the Government of Catalonia and the Government of Cantabria, as well as from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) throughout two projects which are being developed right now together with other European companies. Moreover, Bound4blue received funding from EIT Climate KIC and presently financial support throughout the extraordinary COVID-19 venture support call. EIT Climate KIC has supported us with financing, mentoring, training and access to a global network of investors, as well as increasing our media exposure. They have helped us translate our business model into more transactions with customers that are validating our core value proposition, as well as enabled us to attract more capital to progress into the next stage in the business development.

Bound4blue is now at a pre-commercial stage. The next step is to implement a worldwide industrial network (shipyards, systems manufacturing and assembly), as well as to grow the team in the business development and commercial departments to expand operations and boost sales in Europe and Asia. Moreover, we will undergo incremental development to decrease costs while increasing efficiency and security.