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Water Today Title May 30, 2024
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Tig Rig’s inventor welcomes the shipping industry’s new perception of wind assist technology

“The Planet Crisis is the defining challenge of our age. We must reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by radically reducing fossil fuel use. We have no choice and very little time. Shipping carries 90% of world trade with emissions as high as the whole country of Germany. The conversation these days is about alternative fuels. But that conversation ignores alternative power. Wind is an alternative power source. And it’s free.” --Alistair Johnson, Inventor of the Tig Rig

From the Archives
Saving our planet one ship at a time

The Decade of Wind Propulsion

Interview with Alistair Johnson

By Suzanne Forcese

WT: Great to connect with you again Alistair. Please reintroduce yourself to our viewers and give us an overview of your mission and what WA Technology is.

Johnson: I am a British born Canadian from Vancouver who has invented a way to retrofit sails (wind assist or WA) to the world's merchant fleet as a means to save fuel and reduce carbon emissions. WA makes use of wind power delivered free at the point of use to vessels at sea.

WT: Can you give us some sense of where Wind Assist Technology can accommodate the shipping industry’s commitment to Net Zero?

Johnson: No single technology we know of will deliver the same thrust and cost-effective power to ships as hydrocarbons. All ships will have to adopt a basket of technologies with on board energy markets. Because WA is so carbon cost effective in terms of full carbon life cycle it will be part of that basket for the rest of time.

Given the number of global shipyards, the maximum number of ships built each year is around 1,700. The fleet of 50,000 ships will take over 25 years to replace with more energy efficient vessels. Therefore, to achieve the emission reductions within the required time limit there will have to be retrofitted WA systems.

At the moment WA equipped vessels are doubling every year but with 50 vessels this year by 2030 we will only have 3,200 fitted -- less than one tenth of the fleet.

Current installations are bespoke installations. To fit across the fleet quickly will demand a standardized, modular system.

The Tig Rig retrofit system is capable of mounting every class of WA device. At this time, the Tig Rig retrofit system is the only such standardized, modular system being proposed.

WT: How has the global perception of WA Technology changed in the last year?

Johnson: Over the last 12 months the recognition by the shipping industry that WA is critical has been transformed. It is night and day. I only recently became aware of this when I attended a DNV online Energy Transitions Summit. The CEO of DNV, Knut Nilssen, gave the opening address and listed the top 5 operational and technological requirements needed to achieve the emissions reduction targets. WA was second on his list. I was astounded.

In 2018 I attended my first ever shipping conference and during a plenary session I mentioned WA and was laughed at. In 2018, WA -- perceived as a preposterous solution to emissions reductions -- was a joke to some. So, it was a pleasant surprise to finally see WA recognized as a solution.

WT: Are there any other drivers in this changed view?

Johnson: In addition to discussion of the changed IMO targets together with 2030 and 2040 milestones, it was also noted that cargo owners were driving change as they sought to demonstrate the emissions reduction compliance of their supply chains to their customers. The 2030 requirement for a minimum of 5% zero emissions technology points towards WA in particular. This was all extremely positive and spoke to a very solid shift in shipping industry opinion and coming practice.

WT: At the time of our previous conversation in 2022, WT also spoke with Gavin Allwright, General Secretary of the International Wind Ship Organization (IWSA). WT understands that you have met with Mr. Allwright.

Johnson: In March I accepted an invitation from Gavin to attend the IMO Marine Environment Committee meeting (MEPC 81) for the day as an IWSA delegate. Gavin and were wanting to set up a working group to discuss the barriers to mass installation since my design is based on that concept and is currently the only design that specifically addresses that issue.

WT: Those are certainly big shifts in perception. How about you personally, how has your focus shifted since our last interview? What is your own vision moving forward?

Johnson: The main change is my recognition that the stakeholder network has to take in far more than just the other WA technology providers which is where I was then. The change in the perception of WA by the shipping industry has happened very quickly and is going to move forward very quickly driven by both global regulations, emissions trading systems for shipping, progressive carbon taxation, and cargo owner demands.

WT: What are the proposed forward moving plans for Tig Rig?

Johnson: In terms of my company, I am looking for investors. This is initial funding to build the broad and deep stakeholder network for the creation of a disruptively collaborative entity that I believe is going to be critical to effective roll out of WA on the scale required.

That stakeholder entity will then fund the subsequent phase from proof of concept to production and installation. This will be an initial BC based hub to be followed quickly by a global network. These global hubs will draw on the stakeholder network for both management and skilled labour.

WT: What are the challenges?

Johnson: All shipping companies, owners, charterers, cargo owners etc. are looking at WA for the vessels they either own or make use of. Once recognized that WA is essential then the reality and scope of mass installation becomes the challenge.

I need to go beyond the other WA technology providers and establish a stakeholder group to include ship owners, ship managers, shipbrokers, charterers, cargo owners, ports, local and national governments, and unions. I believe a broad, global entity will be the only way to be able to scale the technology up quickly enough to meet the challenge in the time limit.

WT: What excites you about this evolution?

Johnson: The disruptive collaboration is very new or at least it sounds very new. In fact in moments of major crisis across history this sort of organization has been taken up. This would typically be during war or else for instance for building major projects like CERN's Large Hadron Collider or the Manhattan project.

Our global political economy is facing a major, existential crisis and this sort of organization is going to have to be the way we address the problem.

WT: And on the topic of economy, what do the numbers look like for the potential cost effectiveness of the Tig Rig’s “lots of little” approach compared to bespoke installations??

Johnson: We can assume that once mass production kicks in the unit costs of the WA devices will fall by the standard 60%. From this we can assess the thrust effectiveness of 1/3, 1/4 size units, 18-20 of them mounted on the Tig Rig mounting compared to the 3-6 units per vessel of the full-sized units. The smaller ones will be shorter and will operate in dirtier air, but their numbers will counter that.

The calculus will then boil down to the convenience and future proof nature of the Tig Rig mounting system and the ease of handling, the interchangeability, and the ability to mix assorted designs of smaller units compared to the full size and possibly stranded assets that the existing installations may become. This is a macro business consideration against a strict thrust effectiveness consideration.

WT: What sorts of partnerships might you be looking for in developing a team?

Johnson: I am currently working with two BC based naval architects. William Ferguson is a naval architect and recreational sailor whose twin brothers were Canadian Olympic sailors. He has worked at several companies across BC, mainly in the Vancouver area.

Ben Thompson is also a recreational sailor and spent 24 years at Lloyds Register in Vancouver. He has a thorough knowledge of the classificatory system which will be needed to bring our recent technology through to approval. He also has a wide global network of shipping industry contacts.

We are looking to expand the team and welcome anyone with start-up experience and/or executive level shipping experience to come on board with us.

Anyone interested may contact me at our website dasivedo.com.


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