Pioneering clean energy-driven vessel demonstrates possibilities for hydrogen and battery power
A few months ago, the world’s first catamaran powered solely by renewable sources was launched. The pioneering Energy Observer vessel was developed by research institute CEA Liten, and features a combination of low-carbon technologies which will enable it to circumnavigate the globe over the coming years, all without fossil fuels.
The ship’s original incarnation was as a competitive racing boat. Built in Canada in 1983 by naval architect Nigel Irens, after a career in racing and a number of modifications – including being lengthened four times – its current role is to act as a demonstrator for low-carbon technologies.
The catamaran now measures 31m long and 12.8m wide. It draws on 130 square metres of solar panels on its decks, two vertical wind turbines and a sophisticated system that desalinates and electrolyses water, turning it into hydrogen. This in turn powers a 22kW fuel cell, which acts as a range extender and power unit for the ship’s onboard systems.
Two, 41-kW electric motors in the hull are responsible for propulsion, while a bank of batteries totalling 106kWh supplies power for electrolysis and other on board systems, at voltages of 220V and 24V.
The vessel should also act as a demonstrator for other clean energy propulsion technologies. A smart-traction kite aids both navigation and power generation, in addition to the two 1-kW vertical axis turbines.
The vessel set out on April 14 2017 from the Port of Saint Malo (France), on a six-year trip around the world. During this time it will travel to 101 ports in 50 countries.
To be sure, this will not be the blueprint for many maritime vessels to come; the multiple sources of power and energy storage would suggest the overall efficiency of the system is not suitable for many commercial ventures. However, it does go to show the range of proven technologies that can aid the industry in future – especially as the vessel will navigate a number of difficult environments, from warm seas around the equator to frozen fjords in the Arctic.
Most recently Energy Observer announced a partnership with cable supplier Prysmian Group. The company was also a technical partner on the Solar Impulse, the solar plane that travelled around the world using only batteries in 2015 and 2016.
The 17,000 solar cells integrated into the wings of the plane provided renewable energy to each of its four electric engines via the 150 km of aerospace cables made by Prysmian.