Hydrogen-powered boat begins six-year journey

Article by Adam Duckett

The boat has left Paris on its round-the-world expedition

SEEKING to raise awareness of the promise of hydrogen fuel, a converted racing boat equipped to produce the gas from the sea has begun its emissions-free journey around the world.

The Energy Observer sailed through Paris on Saturday on its way out into the Atlantic for the first leg of a six-year expedition that will see the 30.5 m catamaran call at 101 ports in 50 countries.

A team of 50 engineers, architects and navigators have converted the boat to harness solar and wind power, and produce its own hydrogen fuel from seawater. It includes 130 m2 of solar cells that can be walked upon thanks to a non-slip coating and two vertical axis wind turbines that provide power for the ships motors.

Excess energy is fed to a 105 l/h reverse osmosis system to desalinate sea water, which is then deionised and fed to an electrolyser to split it into hydrogen and compressed to 30 bars for storage and later use. The oxygen produced is vented to the atmosphere.

The crew that will sail the Energy Observer around the world will be led by offshore racer Victorien Erussard and ocean explorer Jérôme Delafosse. A key objective of the project is to prove the performance of hydrogen and “serve as an example throughout the world”. The on-board laboratory will collect data for future research and development into producing hydrogen fuel in a sustainable fashion. Currently, an estimated 95% of hydrogen is produced industrially from fossil fuel sources.

The ship has been described as ‘the Solar Impulse of the seas’ referring to the solar-powered plane that finished its own globe-spanning mission last year. The comparison was reinforced on 7 July after Solar Impulse pilot Bertrand Piccard gave the Energy Observer crew the magnetic compass he used during his own round-the-world trip.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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