Green-powered boat readies for round-the-world voyage

September 12, 2016 by Helene Duvigneau
Labourers work on on the hull of an under-construction self energy producer, multihull 'Energy Observer', in Saint-Malo, western France

Dubbed the "Solar Impulse of the Seas," the first boat to be powered solely by renewable energies and hydrogen hopes to make its own historic trip around the world.

A water-borne answer to the Solar Impulse—the plane that completed its round-the-globe trip using only solar in July—the Energy Observer will be powered by the Sun, the wind and self-generated hydrogen when it sets sail in February as scheduled.

The multi-hulled catamaran is in a shipyard at Saint-Malo on France's west coast, awaiting the installation of , wind turbines and electrolysis equipment, which breaks down water to produce its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen.

"We are going to be the first boat with an autonomous means of producing hydrogen," says Frenchman Victorien Erussard, who is behind the project—confidential until now—with compatriot Jacques Delafosse, a documentary filmmaker and professional scuba diver.

Sun, wind, hydrogen

The plan is for the boat's batteries, which will feed the electric motors, to be powered in good weather by solar and wind energy, explains the 37-year-old merchant navy officer with a smile.

"If there's no Sun or wind, or if it's night, stored hydrogen—generated by electrolysis powered by the solar panels and two wind turbines—will take over," he says.

As a result, the vessel's trip will not use any carbon-emitting fossil fuels, as is the case for 96 percent of boats today.

Victorien Erussard, French skipper of 'Energy Observer', the first boat to be powered solely by renewable energies and hydrogen, poses for a photo in Saint-Malo, on September 6, 2016

The vessel itself has a storied past.

The catamaran won the Jules Verne trophy, for a team sailing non-stop round the world, in 1994. It was bought for 500,000 euros ($562,000) and extended by a whopping six metres, to 30.5 metres (100 feet), for the project.

One of the backers of the endeavour is well-known French environmentalist Nicolas Hulot.

"I support it because it's the first project of this kind to actually be undertaken, it's ambitious and looking toward the future," Hulot, a former special envoy on environmental protection to President Francois Hollande, told AFP.

"It's very promising for marine transport," Hulot added. "The Energy Observer is going to demonstrate that you can have great autonomy (at sea) and you can store and find energy when there isn't any more or sun."

'Great challenge'

The Energy Observer was designed in partnership with a team of naval architects and the CEA-Liten research institute in the French city of Grenoble, which is dedicated to renewable energy technologies.

At a total cost of 4.2 million euros ($4.72 million), the green energy boat will be fitted with sensors to act as veritable moving laboratory for CEA-Liten, whose director Florence Lambert describes the project as a "great challenge" to take on.

French documentary filmmaker and instigator of a self energy producer multihull 'Energy Observer', Jerome Delafosse, poses for a photo in Saint-Malo, on September 6, 2016

"Energy Observer is emblematic of what will be the energy networks of tomorrow, with solutions that could even be used within five years," says Lambert.

"For example, the houses of tomorrow could incorporate a system of hydrogen storage, which is produced during the summer months and then used in the winter."

The head of the project at CEA-Liten, Didier Bouix, adds that hydrogen can store "20 times more energy" than conventional batteries.

Six-year world tour

Energy Observer's world tour is expected to take six years. After a careful crossing of the Mediterranean, the catamaran will venture out into the Atlantic and then Pacific oceans.

In all, 101 stopovers are planned from Cuba to New Caledonia to Goa on India's west coast.

There are still hurdles to overcome, not least in funding: the Energy Observer's trip is expected to cost a minimum of four million euros a year, notably to develop a traveling exhibition.

But the team says it is confident of getting the funds.

And once again it finds inspiration from its airplane mentor Solar Impulse—which flew around the world on renewable energy and accomplished "what everyone said was impossible," said Delafosse.

Explore further: Scientists using sunlight, water to produce renewable hydrogen power

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9 comments

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Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2016
Wouldn't sails be much more efficient for utilizing wind power, rather than a Rube Goldberg machine of a turbine connected to a generator connected to an electrolyzer connected to a gas tank connected to a fuel cell connected to a battery connected to a motor connected to a propeller to drive the ship?

There have been boats powered by wind turbines that can actually sail against the wind through a clever system of mechanical reduction, although the speed isn't anything to write home about. The round-trip efficiency of the whole electro-hybrid system is likely to be so much worse that the wind drag on the turbine may just as well push them backwards.

antialias_physorg
3.5 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2016
and you can store and find energy when there isn't any more wind or sun."

The nice thing at sea is: when there's no sun there's usually plenty of wind. I was wondering whether a method of harvesting wave energy would be feasible (a catamaran design should be suited particularly well for this)...but then again: when you have waves you also have wind. And getting wind energy is probably more efficient.

Wouldn't sails be much more efficient for utilizing wind power,

No, because sails don't work when there is no wind. Fuel cells work when there is no wind but hydrogen stored over from previous, windy, times.

And boats do need power for other things besides movement - so sails alone wouldn't cut it in any case.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2016
No, because sails don't work when there is no wind.


But the turbines don't work well enough and the boat is going backwards if you're trying to power the motor and store hydrogen both at the same time.

The round-trip efficiency of making hydrogen out of sea water and then turning it back to electricity is hardly greater than 20-25%, and the turbine can't exceed the Betz limit for energy conversion which is 59%, which means the turbine ultimately drags the boat back more than it propels it forwards. It would only make sense to use the turbines when the boat is moored or anchored down.

Even when going sideways to the wind, it would be more efficient to use a sail, and stored solar power when there's no wind.

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2016
But the turbines don't work well enough and the boat is going backwards if you're trying to power the motor and store hydrogen both at the same time.

Riiiight. I think you need to get out more and look at real life (and real wind).

Sailing ships have to *drop* sails when it gets too windy. There's plenty of energy in wind to do both: go forward and syphon off some energy for later.

So you'd be stopping when its windy and going when its not.

Nope. You're going when it's windy and you're going when it's not. That's the point.
And I dare say the guys building the ship know a hell of a lot more about what they are doing than you do.

So I'll take their assessment over your arm-chair-know-nothing-but-claim-omniscience-attitude any day, if it's all the same to you.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2016
so sails alone wouldn't cut it in any case.


Sailboats often tow a small turbine-generator in the water.

There's plenty of energy in wind to do both: go forward and syphon off some energy for later.


Yes, but I'm saying this system cannot utilize that wind well enough. There's not enough energy coming out of the propeller for the drag that the turbine causes.

And I dare say the guys building the ship know a hell of a lot more about what they are doing than you do.


Dare I say the reason they're building it is because they don't, and want to test it out. For all we know, the wind energy part can be an abject failure.

Just because someone's building something or investing time and money doen't mean it has to work.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2016
Sailing ships have to *drop* sails when it gets too windy.


And wind turbines have to throttle down just the same or the wind would tear them apart. They typically feather out after 12 m/s and shut down at 22 m/s.

So I'll take their assessment over your arm-chair-know-nothing-but-claim-omniscience-attitude any day, if it's all the same to you.


I'm not claiming omniscience. I'm merely pointing out that using a wind-electric turbine to run an electrolyzer to run a fuel cell to run an electric motor to sail a boat is a ridiculously inefficient way of using energy.

At best the wind turbine is mentioned for PR purposes, because boats often have a small wind turbine to charge the auxillary batteries when the boat is not moving.
tscati
5 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2016
"the first boat to be powered solely by renewable energies and hydrogen"
I suppose technically true, as the sailing ships that travelled around the world for centuries using renewable energy(wind) didn't use hydrogen as well.
italba
5 / 5 (1) Sep 14, 2016
Planetsolar, a solar powered boat, completed her around the world trip four years ago.
http://www.design...e-world/
Playonwords
not rated yet Sep 16, 2016
Ummm - Boats using renewable energy have circumnavigated the world for centuries; they are called "sailing ships"

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