An experienced ocean racer by the name of Victorien Erussard from the city of Saint-Malo located in Northern France once lost all power in the boat he was using in a dash across the Atlantic. Sails were luckily present to keep the boat on the move but to supply the needed power for the Marine Electronics to run, Erussard relied on a generator and an engine. Autopilot was temporarily lost as navigation systems shut down which put his chances of winning in jeopardy. This happened during the 2013 Transat Jaques Vabre race, according to Wired.com magazine.
After that unfortunate experience. Erussard immediately thought that mishaps like that should never happen again. And he had the idea of creating a ship that would use different energy sources. The plan was also fueled by the ugly sight of large cargo ships spreading pollution both on water and in the air.
These ships cross the oceans spreading bad stuff all around.
“These big vessels are a great threat to humanity due to the large quantity of fuel oil that they use,” he added.
Five years after, the idea has finally come to fruition in the form of a catamaran called the Energy Observer. It runs on renewable energy sources and the mission is much identical to the Solar Impulse 2 – a plane powered by solar energy which was flown around the world by Andrew Borschberg and Bertrand Picard just a few years back.
Erussard together with his teammate Jerome Delafosse is now planning to sail around the Earth without the use of any kind of fossil fuel. They plan to make fuel using the sun, seawater, and wind.
Energy Observe began as a racing boat but now has taken the form of a battle cruiser reminiscent of the props that you see in sci-fi movies. Most of the horizontal spaces on it are covered with solar panels. The total area covered by these panels is 1,400 square feet. Some solar panels even curve in certain areas to follow the aerodynamic edges and contours.
Suspended spaces are also added to hold solar panels some getting it from direct sunlight and the other bi-facial ones are getting solar energy from the light being reflected by the water. The rear portion is flanked by a couple of vertical egg whisk-style wind turbines that add to the renewable green energy being produced from the forces of nature.
The propelling power is given off by twin electric motors which are both powered by the power being generated by the power sources just mentioned above. But all the energy produced are going to be useless if it is not stored. Yes! The electrical power is stored in 106-kWh batteries which are roughly the same size as the one you’ll find in a top-end Tesla car.
These batteries provide immediate energy, and storage, as well as access to it, is easy. The bulk of extra energy generated from the shining sun and the blowing wind which the battery cannot hold is being converted to hydrogen using an electrolyzer which splits the hydrogen and oxygen atoms apart.
The latter (oxygen) is being released back into the atmosphere while the former (hydrogen) is being stored in tanks (eight of them) on board.
To make sure that the boat is safe, the tanks are made of carbon fiber and aluminum and it is capable of holding up to 137 pounds of compressed hydrogen. When the need for that energy arises, the hydrogen is fed through a fuel cell where it recombines with oxygen derived from the air in order to produce electricity. Water is then produced as the byproduct of the whole process. It’s the same mechanism and process that works in fuel cell cars like the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity.
By having an efficient energy storage other than battery banks, Erussard was able to make Energy Observer a lot lighter (up to three times) when compared to similar size MS Tûranor PlanetSolar which is the first boat to be able to circle the world using pure solar power back in 2012.
The boat itself is soft to the ears and the planet as a whole since it is quiet and free from sound pollution. Navigating on the vessel is a pleasure in itself according to Erussard who spoke on stage at the future mobility conference entitled Movein’On in Montreal, Canada.
Within the boat is a gleaming white helm that features two captain seats and living quarters that looks modern and minimalistic in white paint and design. The team made sure that the furnishings are as light as possible to make the Energy Observer a lot more energy efficient.
The team made it clear that they are not rushing things. The mission officially started in June 2017 and it’s going to last six years reaching 50 countries in its course. Along the way, the boat is going to make 101 stops – a wonderful adventure indeed! The vessel has now traveled over 7,000 nautical miles as it traveled through different ports in the coastal cities of France. Currently, it’s already in the Mediterranean and is due to arrive in Venice on July 6 where it will spend 10 days in port. The crew is going to have a meet-and-greet with the public where an interactive set up and exhibit showcasing environment-friendly technologies.
Erussard added: “The idea with this ship is to prove a potential energy system of the future”.
He believes that the type of energy generation and storage employed in the vessel is also applicable to land vehicles. Having such technologies implemented would mean less dependence on fossil fuel and he’s looking forward to a future where the oceans are going to be clean from ships that use massive amounts of fossil fuel.