In the 1920’s, a German engineer was sitting on the beach with his wife running sand over his hand. He was explaining the “Magnus effect,” where a rotating object is deflected by the pressure differential as it moves through a fluid or air. At that moment, the engineer, Anton Flettner, realized the Magnus effect could be applied to sailing and ships.

Baseball pitchers and other athletes employ the same Mangus effect to put curve in to the trajectory of a ball. By adding spin in the direction they want the ball to deflect athletes create various types of movement. The ball deflects toward lower pressure in the same manner that an airplane wing creates lift in the air – by creating a zone of lower air pressure, which draws the ball, wing, or boat.

In 1924, with the help of Albert Einstein, Flettner constructed an experimental “rotor” vessel named Baden-Baden, a schooner refit with two 50-foot rotating cylinders where the masts once were. At the time, it could outsail traditional schooners in moderate to heavy wind. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a storm in 1931. He later built a commercial ship, the Flettner-Rotor, which crossed the Atlantic to the United States in 1926.

The first commercial rotor sail ship launched in 1926 and traveled across the Atlantic.

Fast forward to the River Nile in 2009 where a group of students from American University hacked together a Magnus effect beach cat. We don’t think this project went anywhere, but it’s fun to see these guys move around on the Nile with a rotating column of air stuck in the middle of a small catamaran.

Fast forward three more years and you have the founding of a company that is focused on bringing these rotor sales to commercial shipping. Norsepower, based in Finland, was initially developed in collaboration between founding board members Moray Martin of MB Martin and Partners Limited, and Erik Floman from Korkia Venture Insight.

The inventors of the current Rotor Sail design are from the CEO, Mr Tuomas Riski, who designed the automation system which controls Norsepower Rotor Sails, and an advisor, Professor, Dr. H.C. Kai Levander.

The two rotor sails on this ship should save Maersk $200K per year on fuel costs.

Norsepower recently executed real-world testing of the system on a Maersk tanker and Viking cruise ship. They estimate that ships will achieve 7-10% savings on fuel per year. That adds up to about $200,000 in savings for each ship each year, in addition to reducing CO2 emmissions. To make the system more financially viable, they are also offering to rent the rotor sails to ship owners, which decreases the capital investment.

In early December, Norsepower was recognized with a national award in Finland for responsible and renewable innovation.