FRANCE - Environment

Green-powered boat to voyage round the world

The catamaran known as Energy Observer is is undergoing changes in Saint-Malo, Brittany ahead of a planned round-the-world trip using only renewable energy.
The catamaran known as Energy Observer is is undergoing changes in Saint-Malo, Brittany ahead of a planned round-the-world trip using only renewable energy. Loic Venance/ AFP

Two Frenchmen have diclosed plans to launch a water-borne answer to the Solar Impulse, the plane that completed its round-the-globe trip using only solar energy in July.

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Call it the "Solar Impulse of the Seas." The first boat to be powered solely by renewable energies and hydrogen is planning its own historic trip around the world as of this coming February.

The Energy Observer, a multi-hulled catamaran which won the Jules Verne trophy in 1994 for a team sailing non-stop round the world, will be powered by the Sun, the wind and self-generated hydrogen. The plan is for the boat's batteries, which will feed the electric motors, to be powered in good weather by solar and wind energy.

The vessel was bought for 500,000 euros and extended by six metres (to 30.5 metres) for the project. It is currently in a shipyard at Saint-Malo on France's west coast, awaiting the installation of solar panels, wind turbines and electrolysis equipment, which breaks down water to produce its component elements, hydrogen and oxygen.

"We are going to be the first boat with an autonomous means of producing hydrogen," says Frenchman Victorien Erussard, one of two Frenchmen behind the project:

"If there's no sun or wind, or if it's night, stored hydrogen - generated by electrolysis powered by the solar panels and two wind turbines - will take over.

As a result, the Energy Observer will not use any carbon-emitting fossil fuels, as is the case for 96 percent of boats today.

Jacques Delafosse, a documentary filmmaker and professional scuba diver, is Erussard's partner in the project. In addition, well-known French environmentalist Nicolas Hulot is backing the endeavour.

"I support it because it's the first project of this kind to actually be undertaken, it's ambitious and looking toward the future," Hulot, a former special envoy on environmental protection to French President Francois Hollande, Hulot told French news agency, AFP. "It's very promising for marine transport. The Energy Observer is going to demonstrate that you can have great autonomy [at sea] and you can store and find energy when there isn't any more wind or sun."

The project is still looking for additional funding.

'Great challenge'

The Energy Observer was designed in partnership with a team of naval architects and the CEA-Liten research institute in the French city of Grenoble, which is dedicated to renewable energy technologies.

The green energy boat will be fitted with sensors to act as veritable moving laboratory for CEA-Liten, whose director Florence Lambert describes the project as a "great challenge" to take on.

Energy Observer is planning to cross the Mediterranean before venturing out into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In all, it has planned 101 stopovers from Cuba to New Caledonia to Goa on India's west coast.

The complete world tour is expected to take six years, at an estimated cost of more than a four million euros a year.

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