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Hydrogen-powered catamaran Energy Observer launched in sea at Saint Malo

media The hydrogen-powered catamaran Energy Observer while getting lowered into the sea at Saint Malo in France. Energy Observer - Jérémy Bidon

The hydrogen-powered catamaran Energy Observer which is attempting to circumnavigate the world using renewable energy sources was lowered in the sea in the north western French city of Saint Malo on Friday.

The 30-metre long and 13-metre wide boat will the first vessel to produce hydrogen on board from sea water without greenhouse gas emissions.

The boat will take six years to do the around-the-world-trip during which time it will visit 50 countries and 101 ports.

It will be skippered by Victorien Erussard while Jerome Delafosse will be the expedition leader.

Floating laboratory

Energy Observer has been dubbed as a floating laboratory as it hosts futuristic technologies including the use of hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen will be generated on the boat through a set of processes starting with desalination of the sea water.

The purified water will be used both for drinking and for the process of electrolysis which splits the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. The electrolyser can produce 360 grams of hydrogen per hour.

Since hydrogen has a very low molecular weight, it is extremely light. As a result, it is passed through a compressor and pressurised till 350 bar. It is then stored in eight tanks which can hold 60 kg of hydrogen.

It is then fed into a proton exchange membrane fuel cell that generates electricity from hydrogen with water vapour as the output. The electricity is then used to charge the batteries which power the two electric motors for propulsion. Around three and a half kilograms of hydrogen will be needed to power the boat for one hour.

Hydrogen power will be used as a range extender for the vessel whose primary power source is the array of solar panels that occupy 120 square metres of the area.

Some of these panels are bifacial – they get energy directly from the sun and from the reflection on the water surface from below. This im

Victorien Erussard (left) and Jerome Delafosse pose on the boat after it was launched in the sea. Energy Observer - Jérémy Bidon

proves the efficiency by as much as 30 per cent. They also have a non-slip surface to enable crew members to walk on them without slipping.

The boat will also be equipped with an intelligent traction kite that extends up to 80 metres in length and has a surface area of 50 square metres. The kite will pull the boat using strong winds and also help in generating electricity through the reversible electric motors. The final energy source is a set of two vertical wind turbines that will generate 1/10th of the power needed for the boat. They will produce 3 kwh of energy.

These systems have been integrated in a so-called global loop which is a smart energy grid. It has been developed by the Grenoble-based alternative energy research institute.

The 30 tonne boat will be stationed for a few weeks at the port in Saint Malo where it will undergo the final installation and integration of all the systems before embarking on its ambitious journey that starts from France.

Both Erussard and Delafosse are hoping to create another legacy for this catamaran which already enjoys a legendary status. Built in Canada in 1983, it won the prestigious Trophéé Jules Verne with the team Enza New Zealand in 1994.

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