Thordon Bearings has been contracted to supply its grease-free, self-lubricating ThorPlas-Blue bearing material to Aloft Systems’ containerized wind propulsion system designed by to reduce fuel consumption and fossil fuel emissions across all commercial ship types.

The rigid sail system is developed by entrepreneurs Miles Keeney-Ritchie and Satchel Douglas, co-founders of Boston, Massachusetts, US-based start-up Aloft Systems. It is a rigid aluminum and composite airfoil housed in a 16-meter shipping container that deploys automatically when the wind is sufficient to propel the vessel along.

Four ThorPlas-Blue bearings were machined and installed on a ¼ scale prototype to allow the sails to fold, rotate 360 degrees and pivot to optimize wind conditions.

Thordon will supply the material to full-scale units once the entrepreneurs have partnered with a shipowner with whom to trial the system.

“We contacted a number of bearing manufacturers, but decided on the Thordon material as it’s as robust and low maintenance as you can get. We needed a fit-and-forget solution capable of withstanding high loads and pressures. And with ThorPlas-Blue there’s no maintenance, no grease, no corrosion. It was exactly what we were looking for,” Aloft Systems’ Head of Engineering Satchel Douglas said.

“Aloft Systems aligns completely with our mission statement and ethos on environmental sustainability, so we are delighted to be part of this innovative and important project from the outset. The flat-out ingenuity of something like this has the potential to get the entire global shipping industry moving to wind power. Aloft has hit the sweet spot,” Jason Perry, Thordon Bearings’ Regional Manager – North America, stated.

At full scale, two Aloft sail units, each containing a pair of 15-meter long, 3-meter wide folding sails, can reduce fuel consumption and emissions by at least 6%. Depending on vessel size and configuration more units could increase the fuel savings, according to the firm.

“The goal is not to replace the ship’s existing propulsion system, rather reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and help shipowners meet their emissions targets without taking vessels out of service to do so,” said CEO Keeney-Ritchie.

“If shipowners want to make a difference right now, if they want to save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions right now, then it is wind power that’s going to get them there fast and more cost effectively than any other form of renewable propulsion,” said Keeney-Ritchie.

“As a member of the International Wind Ship Association (IWSA), we are keen to support new developments in sustainable propulsion technology. Wind is currently the only zero-emission means of propulsion and Aloft Systems has found a way of making that energy available for all vessels,” Craig Carter, Thordon Bearings’ VP Business Development, commented.

Having successfully demonstrated the technology on land with the ¼ scale prototype, Aloft Systems is now actively engaging with ship operators to trial a full-scale version on an ocean-going pilot vessel.

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