This boat uses seawater to make its own hydrogen fuel

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By STEM Caribbean | Posted on August 16, 2020

Image by Marek Matecki from Pixabay

A boat known as the Energy Observer is being hailed as the first self-sufficient vessel that uses nature as a source of energy. It produces hydrogen from seawater. Japanese automotive company, Toyota, is an official partner of the historic project.   

The automotive industry has experienced significant leaps forward with innovative alternative fuel sources. Companies like Tesla and Ford have been leaning towards eliminating traditional gasoline fuel sources. Tesla’s lithium-ion powered electric vehicles are known for their rechargeable features. This year, a patent for inflatable solar panels, filed by Ford, was published on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website.   

Maritime vehicles are certainly not left out of this green-energy vehicle trend. The Energy Observer has been developed to be a self-powering boat that uses a mix of renewable energy sources: hydrogen, solar, wind, and hydropower. Hydrogen, a much lighter alternative for storage compared to traditional batteries, is produced aboard the vessel and used to store energy.   

In 2013, captain Victorien Erussard started the project and later teamed up with explorer Jérôme Delafosse in 2016. The two have worked with a multidisciplinary team, including professionals like engineers, researchers, scientists, and sailors, who developed an award-winning catamaran into the Energy Observer.  

While hydrogen is widely touted as a clean and renewable source of energy, it’s yet to become widespread. However, according to the project’s website, the Energy Observer team has been developing innovations to make renewable energies a reality for all as they test different new cutting-edge technologies “in the most demanding and at times hostile environment known to man: the ocean.”  

The Energy Observer was launched in 2017 at a seaport in France. It was equipped with technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines, and a control system with over 1,500 sensors and hundreds of alarms. The vessel has since been on a journey around the world, making stops in different countries.   

In February this year, Toyota, who boasted of its support of the project from the start, announced that it had developed a fuel cell system for maritime applications, with the Energy Observer targeted for the first delivery. The fuel system was first used in the Toyota Mirai, which is classified as “the world’s first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle.”  

The news release with the announcement highlighted that the company’s goal to develop a hydrogen society as part of its Environmental Challenge 2050 aligned with the Energy Observer’s mission.   

“We are pleased to be able to further demonstrate the versatility of the Toyota Fuel Cell System. Our European R&D team has worked hard with the team of the Energy Observer to create and install this module in the existing boat. This project shows that the Toyota Fuel Cell technology can be used in any environment and can be spread throughout many business opportunities. It is always inspiring to work with people who aim for the same goals and this project supports even more our vision for a hydrogen society,” said Dr. Johan van Zyl, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe.  

The Energy Observer team expressed how suitable the Toyota Fuel Cell System has been for the boat.  

“We are very proud to embark the Toyota Fuel Cell System on our oceans passages, and test it in the roughest conditions. After three years and nearly 20,000 nautical miles of development, the Energy Observer energy supply and storage system is now very reliable and we look forward to the next step of the project: Get a reliable and affordable system available for our maritime community,” said founder Victorien Erussard.

Captain Erussard went on to say, “We believe that the Toyota Fuel Cell System is the perfect component for this, industrially produced, efficient and safe. Being an ambassador for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our mission is to promote clean energy solutions and we share with Toyota the same vision for a hydrogen society.”  

The project team has been posting about the boat’s journey on social media. It was recently in Haiti. Follow its journey here.

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