Sailing round the world on green power

A man works on the multi-hulled catamaran Energy Observer on Sept 6, 2016 in Saint-Malo, western France.
A man works on the multi-hulled catamaran Energy Observer on Sept 6, 2016 in Saint-Malo, western France.PHOTO: AFP

SAINT-MALO (France) • Dubbed the "Solar Impulse of the Seas", the first boat to be powered solely by renewable energies and hydrogen plans a record-breaking trip around the world.

The waterborne answer to the Solar Impulse - the plane that completed a round-the-globe trip using only solar energy in July - the Energy Observer will be powered by the sun, the wind and self-generated hydrogen when it sets sail in February.

The multi-hulled catamaran is in a shipyard in Saint-Malo on France's west coast, awaiting the installation of solar panels, 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," said Mr Victorien Erussard, who is behind the €4.2 million (S$6.4 million) project, along with Mr Jacques Delafosse, a documentary film-maker and professional scuba diver.

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, explained the 37-year-old French merchant navy officer.

"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 said. As a result, the vessel will not use any carbon-emitting fossil fuels. The catamaran won the Jules Verne trophy, for a team sailing non-stop round the world, in 1994. It was bought for €500,000 and extended by a whopping 6m, to 30.5m, for this project.

The green-energy boat will be a moving laboratory for CEA-Liten, whose director Florence Lambert described the project as " emblematic of what will be the energy networks of tomorrow".

"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," she said.

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

Energy Observer's world tour is expected to take six years.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2016, with the headline 'Sailing round the world on green power'. Print Edition | Subscribe