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  • Bryan Tan

Energy Observer: This Ship Runs On Seawater!!

Updated: Apr 8, 2022

Recently, we got the chance to speak to Louis-Noel Vivies, General Manager of Energy Observer on the applications of different energies sources and their mission to offer practical zero-emission solutions to the maritime communities! Here's what we asked!

What is Energy Observer?

Energy Observer, in the beginning, was just a laboratory vessel, to find out if the kite system was possible for the maritime industries if vertical wind turbines were a good solution, then we tested a lot of solar panels and batteries.

Where does the Energy Observer draw its power from to sail?

The biggest innovation was the hydrogen chain, we take the seawater and we desalt it, we electrolyze it, compress it and we have a fuel cell to get the electricity out of the hydrogen. So when there’s no sun or wind, we still have this big storage of energy in the form of hydrogen.

We strongly believe in the mix of energies. How do we keep the energy when we have too much sun and wind today but within the next 5 days we won’t have enough? So the mix of energy is important as it provides you with some security in terms of energy sources, and then the hydrogen lets you store it in the long term. We’ve got 1 mWh stored in pure electricity in the form of hydrogen, 62 kilos of storage and we have 100 kWhs in the form of Li-ion batteries. So altogether with no wind, no sun, you can sail for about 6 knots, 6 days.

What were some of the challenges faced running the Energy Observer?

At the very beginning, everything was custom made, the first fuel cell was a prototype, the electrolyzer is based on an electrolyzer designed for hospitals and we just modified it to adapt the desalination. We invented all the compression stages to have the best, most efficient system but it was so expensive, so custom-made that all the communities that we met around the world, the fishermen, the passenger boats, the ship owners, all of them told us “okay, this is very nice, very interesting, but what can we do with it, you know?”.

So we decided for 2 years now, to just downsize in terms of cost, we use more and more off the shelf, commercial and industrial components for the ocean wings, for the hydrogen we use a TOYOTA fuel cell. We stopped trying to get the best efficiency from every component, and just try to have something which runs smoothly with higher reliability because now we need to convince the maritime communities and that’s not the same job as getting the most out of a system.

How long more do you think maritime vessels will be able to go full zero emissions?

When you see what has been the hydrogen activity for the last 2 years. In Europe, France has 7 billion euros planned, in Germany, it’s 8 billion planned, in the US it’s the same, everywhere they’re investing massively. In about 5 years, you should have more prototypes and working cargo ships running on electricity with hydrogen and range extenders.

What does Energy Observer aim to achieve through its expedition and some of the insights gained from it?

The purpose was first to showcase that it works, even in the worst conditions. Now the purpose is much wider to design affordable, reliable systems and to offer them to the community. Testing, destroying systems, components, solar panels, batteries, tanks and rebuilding, modifying, adapting and optimizing, it’s just a big amount of experience to put all these systems in a very corrosive atmosphere.

Thanks to what we have done on this boat, we are able to design a very competitive and efficient system for many applications.

If you're interested to check out the Energy Observer, it has made its way down to Singapore and is currently docked at ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove for its 6th round-the-world expedition from 10 March to 20 March.

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