Energy Observer, the first self-sufficient vessel using renewable energy sources to produce hydrogen from seawater with zero CO2 emissions and zero fine particles; is due to leave her home port of Saint-Malo in Brittany, France, over the next few days on the first leg of a global voyage to test and promote renewable energy technologies.
Energy Observer began life as Formula TAG, the maxi-multihull designed by Nigel Irens that was the first sailing boat to break 500 miles in 24 hours in 1984. She has been heavily modified to harness green electricity from solar and hydrokinetic sources and electrolytically split water molecules to release the hydrogen, which is fed into a fuel cell to produce energy in an electrochemical reaction to power the vessel’s electric motors and onboard services.
Having already covered 18,000 nautical miles since her launch in 2017, including a visit to the Arctic, the 4-year expedition will include three ocean crossings amounting to a total distance of over 20,000 nautical miles. The first stage will take the multihull to Tokyo for the upcoming Olympic Games, then on to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, aiming to test the 30.5-metre catamaran’s green energy systems not just in extreme conditions but also over very long distances.
During the winter the floating laboratory has undergone a series of technical upgrades to increase her green energy output. The array of solar panels has been enlarged with more efficient photovoltaic cells; a second fuel cell by Toyota with a maximum capacity of 114kW has been added; the Oceanwings sail system developed by VPLP has been tweaked; and her fixed pitch propellers replaced with automatic variable pitch propellers by Brunton.
“These improvements still have to be thoroughly tested at sea,” says Hugo Devedeux; the development engineer on the project and a permanent crew member. “But even using the new fuel cell at 50 percent for optimised efficiency gives us around twice the net power when you consider the original fuel cell was just 22kW.”
The Energy Observer team is also working on a 12-metre, hydrogen-powered tender equipped with Toyota fuel cells. Currently in build at Hynova Yachts in the south of France. It will take part in the Solar Energy Boat Challenge in Monaco at the beginning of July; and make its boat show debut in Cannes in September.
Hydrogen is widely regarded as the fuel of the future and fuel cell technology is filtering down to the superyacht sector with projects like the hydrogen-powered Aqua concept by Sinot Yacht Architecture & Design.