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             Energy Observer with sails fitted and VAWT generators removed



GREEN HYDROGEN - A hydrolyzer and fuel cell energy storage combination. In 2017, the first hydrogen-fueled "marine" fuel cell was installed in France on board Energy Observer, for a series of stopovers, in France, then in Europe, thus leading our autonomous ship to the Arctic Circle in 2019. During this trip, Energy Observer was equipped with a fuel cell, developing a power of 30kW, designed in collaboration with the CEA. Although it is still on board and has fulfilled its role wonderfully during these first couple of years, the energy needs of the ship kept increasing as new technologies were installed to be tested and as the navigation periods extended.




If the Energy Observer (EO) had been purpose designed and built, she would have been the largest solar powered vessel in the world. She was converted from a racing catamaran designed by Nigel Irens for sail powered yacht competitions. She has since been extended twice, but must be given recognition for her revised dimensions and the achievements of her team in several years of operation and development.


In 2020, the EO ship traveled nearly 11,000 nautical miles at an average speed of 4.4 knots. They admit it is still slow, but it's improving year after year.




Twin sails of the Energy Observer



FICTION - A version of the Energy Observer features in 'Kulo-Luna,' the story of a giant humpback whale that fights against whalers of a future world where ocean plastic has made fish so toxic, that whaling has become legal again to feed starving fishing nations.






When launched in April 2017, the Observer claims to be the first vessel in the world to both generate and be powered by hydrogen. She was developed in collaboration with engineers from the CEA-LITEN.

The boat produced and stores hydrogen using desalinated seawater thanks to an energy mix involving: 3 types of solar panels spreading over a surface (originally) of 130 square meters (21 kW peak), 2 vertical axis wind turbines (2 x 1 kW), 1 traction kite and 2 reversible electric motors (2x41 kW) of hydrogenation, 1 lithium battery (106 kWh), 1 desalinator, 1 electrolyser, 1 compressor, 1 fuel cell (22 kW), and 62 kg of hydrogen. The complete hydrogen system weighs 2100 kilos.






These specifications have since been changed along with lengthening of the hulls. Recently, 36.8m² of solar panel area have been added to the existing 165m² for 5.6Kw of additional power and a total surface area of 202m². As a result, the maximum power will be 34kWp (they have almost doubled the power since 2017) but the Observer does not have sun tracking as with the Elizabeth Swann, and the Swann has 55kW, with room for expansion. Much more harvesting area, but then the Swann was designed from the waves up to be solar powered. The Observer has a power to weight ratio of 1.14 kW/ton. More than PlanetSolar's 1.05kW/ton, but nowhere near the 3kW/ton potential of the Elizabeth Swann.




The solar and wind powered Energy Observer



Energy Observer development continued in the winter of 2017 with a series of tests at sea before its big departure from Saint-Malo in the spring of 2018. It was scheduled to call in at Paris for a first event where the boat would be officially christened, with her new name. This event celebrated the start of a planned six-year expedition, scheduled from 2017 to 2022, visiting 50 countries and 101 ports of call including: historical ports, wildlife sanctuaries, natural reserves, endangered ecosystems, and international events. The Observer is a ZEWT, short for Zero Emission Waterborne Transport. The term ZEWT is typically applied to hydrogen vessels and other design improvements aimed at zero emission shipping.




Crew of Energy Observer leaving Matinique




Victorien Erussard, offshore racer and merchant naval officer, will lead the expedition, along with Jérôme Delafosse, professional diver and producer of wildlife documentaries. By their side, a team of over 30 people, architects, designers, and engineers, spreading from Saint-Malo to Paris to Grenoble, have been working since 2015 on refurbishing the catamaran.









Energy Observer is a former race boat that has been reconditioned: Built in Canada in 1983 by naval architect Nigel Irens, under the supervision of sailor Mike Birch. The 'maxi-multihull' marked the evolution of its successors. Baptised Formule TAG, presumably after the Swiss watch company, it was the first racing sailboat to break the symbolic 500 miles limit in 24 hours in 1984.








The boat has been lengthened four times and now displays the following dimensions: 

Length 30,5 metres (100ft)
Width 12,80 metres
Weight 30 metric tons
Speed 8-10 knots




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The transition from a 30kW battery to the new 80kW fuel cell (60kW continuous) has not only doubled the capacities of the vessel, it has increased them exponentially. Indeed, it is important to understand that a REXH2 is, like the Toyota Mirai, designed to operate in conjunction with one or more batteries. Although it is theoretically possible to ensure the propulsion of a small boat, having a simple and recurrent user profile, with the electricity supplied by a single fuel cell, it is more pragmatic to couple it with batteries which will serve both as an energy reserve (storage) and as an energy source for the propulsion and the hotel load.

The benefits, compared to an "all-electric" scheme, is to reduce the need for a large number of batteries, whose sustainability and recycling possibilities are questionable, while allowing a substantial weight gain for more or less the same volume. It is also a cheaper solution in terms of acquisition price / buying price and operational costs In addition, up to 10 REXH2 can be combined so as to bring the power of the system from 80 to 800kW. Finally, the hydrogen fueling it can be completely "green", when resulting from water electrolysis, whereas a battery is usually recharged via "the grid", whose energy is not always of virtuous origin.



Jeremie Lagarrigue and Chloe Zaied with the REXH2




In their view, the REXH2, in electric hybridization, or even in diesel-hydrogen-electric hybridization, appears today as the option most likely to reduce as much as possible CO2 and fine particle emissions on board ships, looking to the future improvement of green hydrogen production and storage capacities, when it may finally be possible to run fleets of ships on hydrogen to meet all of the on-board energy needs.

After spending many months on Toyota’s test bench in Belgium, in its test version, the first REXH2 was finally installed on board Energy Observer, where is was tested again and again over the winter to ensure its reliability as well as its performance in a demanding marine environment, subject to many changing weather patterns, waves, swell and roll.







GREEN HYDROGEN - Electro-hydrogen hybridization is at the heart of the propulsion system of The New Era by HYNOVA Yachts, the first dayboat equipped with a REXH2® running on hydrogen and currently in approval phase. We spoke with Frédéric Ménière, President of EVE System, Chloé Zaied, Managing Director of HYNOVA Yachts, and Romain Jallon, Director of Operations at EODev, to explain how electro-hydrogen hybridization is ideal for decarbonized maritime mobility.




Where the ocean is a roller coaster, not a highway, a fuel cell is a sensitive organ, which must be protected from any external dust and harmful particles. In February 2020 the REXH2 was ready to be implemented for its first transatlantic crossing, but was unfortunately delayed a few times as a result of capricious weather conditions across the Atlantic, something the Mayflower came up against in 2021.

The bet was all the more daring as the adventure was attempted with a new fuel cell, rather than simply relying on the capacities of the previous one, which would not have been enough to guarantee the autonomy required for such a crossing anyway, especially as the Pacific crossing is also looming in the distance. 






GREEN HYDROGEN - The REXH2® fuel cell - compressor – inverter set, installed back in 2019, boasts a maximum power output of 60 kW (though it is operated at around 50% of its potential to optimize its output).







The slender bows of Formule TAG, now Energy Observer, remain the identifying feature of this famous ocean racer, but much else has changed during the boat’s many lives.

In 1983, the 80ft Formule TAG was launched as part of a revolutionary new generation of multihulls designed for ocean racing and record-breaking. At the time it was the largest ocean racing catamaran of its type, built using aerospace technology. The following year it beat the 24-hour record by covering 512.5 miles.




Energy Observer in dry dock for a refit




In 1993 it was bought by Peter Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston for a Jules Verne attempt, famously flying a spinnaker decorated with bright red and green apples under the name ENZA (Eat New Zealand Apples). The second attempt, in 1994, succeeded and the boat set a round the world crewed record of 74 days.

Next, it became Royal & SunAlliance, skippered by Tracy Edwards. Although the Jules Verne Trophy proved elusive, Edwards and her team broke seven world records.







Tony Bullimore took it on, extending the hulls to 100ft and racing as Team Legato in the round the world race organised by Bruno Peyron to celebrate the year 2000: The Race.

In 2010, off Cape Finistère, it capsized in 15 knots of wind. Many thought the boat would never recover from such an accident: too old to race, too damaged to be repaired.

Enter French entrepreneur Victorien Erussard. He's sailed everything from Hobie cats and Formula 18s to competing in the Route du Rhum and Transat Jacques Vabre, had a different idea.

His aim was to build the first 100% energy self-sufficient vessel. The chassis of a former ocean-racing catamaran would make the ideal platform, and ‘recycling’ an existing boat fitted perfectly with the project’s ambitions.






Elizabeth Swann



PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF SCIENCE - The solar and wind powered 'Elizabeth Swann' will feature solar collectors and wind energy harvesting apparatus in an advanced configuration. She is seen here sporting a single VAWT electricity generator. Our mission is to mount a custom built vertical axis machine and test it, in relation to actual commercial routes. We also want to experiment with a hydrogen rig that is potentially more efficient than Observer's compressed gas system.





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