Wind allows seagoing ships to sail more efficiently. The Dutch company Econowind builds 'VentoFoils' in Zeewolde and Warten. With these wind sails, ship owners can reduce fuel consumption by up to 30%. This contributes to making shipping more sustainable. The Investment and Development Agency for the Northern Netherlands (NOM) and Horizon Flevoland are investing heavily in the scale-up to enable rapid growth.
You can best describe the VentoFoil as a vertical airplane wing, the invention of Econowind. It converts the wind at sea into forward thrust of the ship. The fans inside reinforce the effect. And that makes a significant difference in the consumption of more expensive fuels. "We have been developing for five years and are now facing major growth," says director Frank Nieuwenhuis.
World market leader
Since 2016, Econowind has been pioneering wind propulsion for marine vessels. The sixteen-meter aluminum VentoFoil production takes place in the Zeewolde factory. These sails are ideally suited for the short sea market. "But we now also have a cooperation with shipyard Bijlsma in Warten. There we build the large steel VentoFoils, thirty meters high. These are perfect for large ocean-going vessels. We expect a lot of growth to come from there as well. It is precisely with this full range of wind sails that we can serve various market segments and further expand our international leading position.''
Investment gives wings
Capital is needed for the company's growth. That is why NOM and Horizon Flevoland are both stepping into the company. With this participation, Econowind can go ahead and scale up production. The plans are ambitious. Nieuwenhuis: "In 2027 we will make at least one every day. In Zeewolde, Warten and at another location in the world. With over 50,000 active marine vessels, the market is incredibly large."
"In addition, we are further automating the control of the systems. Now the sails go up automatically and when the wind is too strong, they fold. The crew does not have to operate the VentoFoils. Soon, customers will be able to get even more efficiency out of the VentoFoils based on Artificial Intelligence. Wind information will be integrated into the models. We will convert the wind forecast into direct advice on the most optimal sailing route. That means concretely deviating from the shortest route to go faster on the wind."
Watch the animation of Econowind.
Making shipping more sustainable
Environmental legislation for marine vessels is getting stricter. With the start of the CO2 tax in 2024, ship owners want to accelerate greening. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) aims for 40 percent CO2 reduction for shipping. "The time is ripe. Sustainability is high on the agenda in the industry. Shipping companies are going full fuel economy. Wind propulsion is a proven solution and fuel independent. The payback time for current ships is around five years. With the VentoFoils, ships can reduce fuel consumption by up to 30% at voyage level."
In recent years, Econowind has installed and extensively tested sixteen wings. It is a proven technology that is robust under the challenging conditions at sea. The VentoFoils are installed on existing ships and also integrated into new-build vessels. "Meanwhile, we have reduced the production time of a 16-meter wing to a few months. That is very fast in this industry. We want to be able to deliver quickly because customers ask for it. You can see the confidence of the market reflected in the order book."
For NOM, the participation is logical for several reasons, says investment manager Allard ter Horst: "Making the maritime sector more innovative and sustainable is one of our spearheads. The production in Warten, Friesland, makes the North really involved. Econowind already has contracts with shipyards and ship owners at home and abroad. With a mature team, the company makes products that are super interesting for the maritime future. We are happy to be part of that. Moreover, it leads to employment in the region. We welcome that.''
Inge Verschuur of Horizon Flevoland thinks Econowind is a wonderful company: "We expect that the company can grow very fast in the short term. That's why Econowind fits into our Growth Fund. We are impressed by the team, and by the other shareholders, who really advise. Innovation is a focal point for us, of course, but we're also there to help achieve growth. We find Econowind an inspiring example in that regard and have high expectations.''