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Energy Observer, a retired racing maxi-catamaran is being equipped with an innovative renewable energy system using wind, sunshine and hydrogen.

As a racing maxi-catamaran, she won the 1994 Jules Verne Trophy; today, renamed Energy Observer, she is being turned into a revolutionary beast that will run entirely on wind, sunshine and hydrogen. The conversion is being done in Saint-Malo, France, and is scheduled for completion “this coming spring,” says Victorien Erussard, the boat’s energetic skipper. Following trials, the Energy Observer will set off on a six-year, round-the-world, zero-fossil fuel trip — an incredible gamble technically and a huge adventure for the crew.

For the moment, around 50 sailors, naval architects and engineers are working around the clock and seven days a week on what will be not only a laboratory, but also an ambassador for green energies. The proposed itinerary will include stops in 50 countries and meetings with other teams working on designs for tomorrow’s world proving that a cleaner future is possible. “In earlier times, men went exploring to conquer new territories and seize resources. With Energy Observer, the aim is to discover and share solutions for a cleaner future,” says Jérôme Delafosse, one of the project leaders. The overall budget is €5 million.

Sun, wind, kite

Energy Observer may be a dream, but it is not a utopian one. Using renewable energies and a self-contained hydrogen system, the aim is to achieve energy independence without releasing any greenhouse gases. A veritable prowess. The challenge is to combine multiple energy sources, including three types of solar panels covering 130sq.m, two vertical-axis wind turbines, a smart traction kite, two reversible electric motors and, instead of batteries, hydrogen stored in high-pressure tanks. When sufficient electricity is available, it will be used to produce hydrogen from seawater by electrolysis. When there is no sun or wind, stored hydrogen will be converted back into electricity by fuel cells. With or without sunlight and with or without wind, the Energy Observer will keep moving.


160652 energy observer

(© : Kadeg Boucher)

160612 tfr L'ancien catamaran de sir Peter Blake est reconditionné à Saint-Malo avant une mise à l'eau prévue au printemps. Il partira ensuite pour six ans autour du monde.

(© : Kadeg Boucher)


“A forerunner of tomorrow’s energy networks”

“It’s the sort of project that dreams are made of. And it’s important too,” says Nicolas Hulot, the boat’s sponsor and one of France’s leading promoters of sustainable development. “The challenge is similar to the one we face to bring about a real technological revolution.” The project is supported by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, or CEA, which appointed Florence Lambert and a team of specialists to provide technical assistance. “Energy Observer is a forerunner of tomorrow’s energy networks,” she says, adding “it’s not a crackpot idea dreamt up by crazy sailors and researchers”. On the economic front, the impact will include new jobs. But it’s up to industrial firms to seize the opportunity. Energy Observer will, it is hoped, demonstrate that these technologies have real potential not only in the maritime sector, but also in the automotive and aviation industries. Florence Lambert believes that many innovative SMEs are ready to take up the challenge. The Energy Observer will be a roving ambassador visiting ports around France and worldwide to show, from the sea, what can be done on land to make the global economy greener.

Original, in French, by Catherine Magueur and Vincent Groizeleau, translated and adapted by Steve Dyson


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