Energy Observer: Bridging energies, nations and generations

Energy Observer: Bridging energies, nations and generations

Energy Observer: This is so much more than a boat. In fact, it’s so much more than a hydrogen-powered boat. It’s the first of its kind, a trailblazer, a floating lab as the crew refers to it – and it’s a floating message to the world about both the capabilities and the importance of clean mobility.

“We are proud to make the maritime community one of the pioneers for a clean world,” said Founder and Captain, Victorien Erussard.

It’s a message about not just maritime change, but mobility and ecosystems as a whole. And it’s a message that resonates.

We were in good company at today’s press conference, marking the 47th stopover for the Energy Observer and an iconic one at that; moored at St. Katharine Docks with the historic Tower Bridge as the backdrop and the headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) not far away.

Reporters from specialty and mainstream media alike were in attendance, following up with more in-depth interviews with the crew and key advocates, just as we did ourselves. In one moment crew members were conversing with Energy Live News, the next with H2 View, and then with Bloombergand AFP. These are just a handful of examples of the appeal that this intrepid project is all at once bringing to the clean energies debate. This is exactly what the project sets out to do: raise much needed awareness and a mindset change that will ultimately accelerate the race to sustainability.

©H2 View

“We are an ambassador for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN, and the first French ambassador to carry France’s message of the need to preserve the planet,” enthused Captain Erussard.

Their message is one of a new era for us all – free of fossil fuels and working hand-in-hand with nature, rather than competing with it. Crucially, it is the message that we can begin to move to this new world now, and Energy Observer is proving that point with every one of the 15,000 nautical miles it has already clocked up across Europe.

“We are definitely positive, and we want to make people dream of another world to raise awareness,” added Chief of Expedition Jerome Delafosse, himself a veteran of various sea adventures and experiences around the world prior to his involvement in Energy Observer.

In fact, it was those experiences and the varying degrees of damage that he had seen to our planet that inspired Delafosse to join this pioneering adventure. “I was a bit tired of being a witness and needed to go further, from witness to action. The day that Victorien [Erussard] contacted me about this boat and this project, I immediately wanted to take part,” he explained.

©H2 View

Once you see it and understand it, you can certainly see why. This legendary vessel is an incredible example first and foremost of upcycling: around 35 years old, it was once a cutting-edge catamaran for sea races of the highest level, and had the battle scars in its Kevlar construction to show for those adventures when the Energy Observer team first acquired it around eight years ago for their ambitious odyssey.

They have since overhauled its design and technology, with up to 168 square meters of innovative solar panels, various configurations of wind propulsion that have culminated in the unique OceanWings® that augment its power today, and of course the 350 bar hydrogen energy system that complements its battery power.

It’s also an incredible example of just what can be achieved, and at what scale.

Take the new OceanWings®, for example. Not only do they increase the speed of the vessel, from an average of four knots to now 5-6 knots, we understand, but they also complement the electric motors onboard and compensate for them, reducing the energy consumption. Further still, they increase the energy production during navigation by producing hydrokinetic energy (reversing the electric motors into hydrogenerators) and help to produce the hydrogen for the boat while at sea, through the electrolysis of water.This is where the inverting of the electric motors becomes an indispensable power supplement, introducing hydro-generation for 1-2 hours a day.

©H2 View

As for the hydrogen, it provides around eight times more energy than the batteries on board, for the same weight, and s capable of 100% production onboard – from seawater. This is purified prior to electrolysis, after which around 1kg of hydrogen equates to around 90 minutes of autonomy. It’s an incredible feat of engineering and Captain Erussard affirmed that hydrogen is clearly proving to be a key enabler in energy transition.

“Why did we choose hydrogen? It is inexhaustible, the most abundant element in the universe… it is an energy carrier, it emits only water vapour. It contains equal mass, and yet three times more energy than gasoline.”

“We are sure that hydrogen is the best framework to renewable energies…”

It’s the multiplier effect of all of these complementary technologies that the Energy Observer crew is so proud of, backed up by statistics which speak for themselves. 15,000 nautical miles powered solely by renewable energies; 42% decrease in energy consumption thanks to OceanWings® technology; half a tonne of hydrogen produced in 2018; 42% energy efficiency of the hydrogen system; and 46% efficiency of the fuel cell.

Energy Observer is an ambassador for the 17 SDGs for 2030, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a unique, slick and striking symbol of clean mobility and with its impressive ability to raise awareness, it’s bridging not just technologies but nations. “It is a question of bridging new futures, practices and generations,” Captain Erussard reflected.

So what’s next?

Well, we understand from our interview with Managing Director Louis-Noël Viviés that the boat will return to Saint Malo (France) again after its residency in London is concluded this month, where it will once again undergo maintenance and modifications. More specifically, it will be upgraded again, with various aspects of its state-of-the-art technologies being improved upon even further.

Among those upgrades will be an increase in its solar power generation capabilities from 28kW (we were informed it has not peaked at 28kW yet but close, at 26kW) to 33kW and, of most interest to H2 View readers, the addition of a whole new fuel cell system. The vessel will be moving from 350 bar to 700 bar hydrogen technology, effectively doubling a capacity that has already proven itself on the high seas and evidently won the support of its crew.

Around February 2020, we can expect to see Energy Observer set sail again, this time to embark upon the North-East Asia leg of its global adventure, and a symbolic stopover in Tokyo, Japan to coincide with the 2020 Olympic Games. Watch this space!

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