Germany's Oldendorff Carriers could have a folding rotor sail power system ready for its bulker fleet by 2022.
The bulker operator said it has launched a joint development project with Anemoi Marine Technologies to break down "significant barriers" for the installation of wind-assisted technology on dry cargo vessels.
Classification society Lloyd's Register and Shanghai Merchant Ship Design and Research Institute (Sdari) have also been brought on board for the work.
Torsten Barenthin, director of innovation at Oldendorff, said the companies are looking to achieve a "comprehensive functional application of wind technology that returns environmental and commercial benefits throughout our vessels' entire life cycle".
The fuel-saving idea involves installing Anemoi's patented vertical rotors on deck to provide additional thrust while reducing carbon emissions.
The sails would also be mounted with a folding system to allow them to be flattened on deck.
The ships will then be able to pass under bridges and port cranes.
The system will be tested on long-haul voyages — but only if the design and study phases have been concluded with positive results.
Oldendorff would carry out a trial on a newcastlemax bulk carrier of 207,000 dwt should that be the case.
"Partnering in this project further demonstrates Oldendorff Carriers' commitment to sustainable shipping and their support of emerging wind propulsion technology as a route to future environmental compliance and decarbonisation," Nick Contopoulos, chief operating officer of Anemoi Marine Technologies, said.
MIT deal agreed last year
Last year, Oldendorff signed an agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Bits & Atoms to investigate "disruptive" improvements in ship design and propulsion to achieve the IMO 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation goals.
"We believe the joint development project shows the maritime community OC [Oldendorff Carriers] is serious about its efforts to reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and make shipping sustainable and competitive," Sdari chief engineer Wang Gang Yi said.
"We think that using wind assistance for enhancing propulsion is a viable way of helping to decarbonise the industry."
Lubeck-based Oldendorff has a fleet of 120 bulkers, including newbuildings.