Following the success of Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered aircraft that traveled the world last year, the Energy Observer has just left for its 6-year journey around the world and it’s being powered by the sun, wind, and hydrogen. It’s been nicknamed the “Solar Impulse of the Seas” and is set to stop in 50 countries over the next 6 years to promote emissions-free travel.
Originally designed and used in 1983 for open-sea sailing races but was recently converted by 50 engineers, designers, and naval architects to repurpose the vessel. Skippers Victorien Erussard and Frederic Dahirel spearheaded the conversion and Erussard and filmmaker Jérôme Delafosse will helm the ship.
During the day, the Energy Observer will run off of the energy produced from the sun and wind via solar panels and two vertical axis wind turbines. At night, the boat will run on hydrogen using an electrolysis system onboard that takes in seawater to generate hydrogen, allowing the vessel to be completely free of emissions.
“The problem is that 95 per cent of the hydrogen that you use already is made out of fossil energies,” explained Delafosse. “We will produce hydrogen onboard from the ocean, we will clean and purify the water and then we will electrolyse it and then compress it in tank storage.”
That’s not all the ship has to offer. It’s also equipped with electric motors, lithium-ion batteries, a hydrogen fuel cell, and a traction kite among other technologies aimed at making the boat eco-friendly. The 100-foot long and 42-foot wide boat was constructed with $ 5 million and christened by France’s environment minister Nicolas Hulot prior to leaving Paris earlier this month. When the boat embarked on its journey, it carried Anne Hidalgo, Paris’ mayor, aboard the vessel.
Energy Observer is three times lighter than MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, the last solar-powered boat to circumnavigate the world, and can theoretically go three times faster at a top speed of 42 knots. However, PlanetSolar took only 18 months to travel the world and Energy Observer will likely cruise at 8 to 10 knots for the next 6 years. When asked why they would be taking so long in their journey, the explorers had an appropriate explanation.
“We can use this technology in hotels, in houses, in cars… the idea is to be less dependent on the network,” Delafosse said. “It shows how fast things can happen: as it did in London at the turn of the last century with [moving from] horses to cars, it will happen with renewable energy.”
In addition to proving that emissions-free travel can be done, Energy Observer will also act as a showcase for the future of sustainability. The boat will be making the stops at boat shows and trade fairs in “capital cities that are already engaged in the energy transition” in an effort to give cities an extra push towards sustainability and reduced emissions.
“There is not one miracle solution to combat climate change: there are solutions which we must learn to operate together. That’s what we are doing with Energy Observer: allowing nature’s energies, as well as those of our society, to collaborate,” said Erussard.