Energy Observer is a self-sufficient, emissions-free boat that has already navigated over 64,000 km thanks to an energy mix combining hydrogen and renewable energies. But it’s more than just a seafaring vessel. It’s a laboratory for energy transition.
Victorien Erussard, is the captain and Founder of Energy Observer. He’s also part of a team of drivers who have just broken the world-record for distance driven with one fill of hydrogen. He’s become an evangelist for hydrogen-based mobility.
As an officer in France’s merchant navy, Erussard sailed on several vessels as far as Antarctica. As a professional sailor, he also graced a series of race podiums over the last decade, from the Route du Rhum, to the Transat Jacques Vabre to the Quebec-St Malo.
“During one of these transatlantic passages, my diesel generator broke down in the middle of the Atlantic making it impossible to helm my machine albeit surrounded by solar, wind power and hydropower and I realized that the finest victories are those that have some meaning. At that point, I decided to invest my time in the race for smart energy rather than the race for trophies,” says Erussard.
The Energy Observer project was born in 2013. He assembled a team of sailors, scientists, engineers and reporters in order to create the first self-sufficient vessel capable of drawing its energy from nature whilst also preserving it.
Developed from a legendary multiple award-winning catamaran, Energy Observer is a laboratory for the ecological transition designed to push back the limits of zero-emission technologies.
Energy Observer casts off on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020, on an epic four-year round the world odyssey.
“Hydrogen, solar, wind and hydropower, all the solutions are experimented with, tested and optimised here with a view to making clean energies a practical reality that is accessible to all. Criss-crossing the oceans in a bid to get out and meet those who are coming up with sustainable solutions for the planet every day, Energy Observer has become a movement, a round the world Odyssey, where every stopover is an opportunity to learn, to understand and to share the different energies,” he explains.
Credit – Energy Observer Productions – Agathe Roulin
Where The Sea Meets The Land
Erussard strongly believes that the automotive and transport sectors will benefit from his team’s R&D. He says Energy Observer is a laboratory where engineers, researchers and scientists are developing innovations, which will make renewable energies a reality for all.
“They put to the test the latest, cutting-edge technologies in terms of hydrogen, batteries, solar and wind power and hydroelectricity production in the most demanding and at times hostile environment known to man: the ocean. These are tried-and-tested technologies optimised over the course of a voyage spanning more than 35,000 nautical miles.”
“The variety and diversity of renewable energies are central to resilient zero-carbon energy systems developed by our engineers with the support of our manufacturing partners. The development of reliable, sustainable, noise-free, affordable energy solutions forms the nub of the challenges faced by this odyssey,” adds Erussard.
But why choose hydrogen mobility over fully electric mobility?
“On board technologies, combining multiple sources -solar, wind and hydropower- and forms of storage, batteries and above all hydrogen, are the forerunners of tomorrow’s smart energy grids, which can be reproduced on a large scale, everywhere and for everyone. To date, hydrogen is the best ally of the renewable energies. The most abundant chemical element in the universe, light and with an energy density three times higher than traditional fuels, it allows the storage of surplus renewable energy and makes it possible to offset their intermittency.”
The 62 kg of hydrogen stored onboard Energy Observer provides 1 MW of electricity (and 1 MW of heat). That’s the average consumption of a household of four people for a month, for a total weight of the system (electrolyser, compressors, fuel cell, tanks etc) below two tons.
“To have the same power storage with batteries only, the boat would be more than 12 tons heavier! While maritime and land mobility meet ever-increasing demands for power, speed and reliability, hydrogen is currently the only energy carrier that offers a credible alternative to fossil fuels without impacting the environment,” he adds.
Taking a Seat For the Future
Toyota is an official partner of Energy Observer. The boat is the first of its kind to be equipped with a Toyota fuel cell.
As part of a team of car drivers, Erussard has just broken the world record for the distance covered by a hydrogen vehicle. The Toyota Mirai was driven from the Air Liquide hydrogen station at Orly to Energy Observer’s ‘Paris of Hydrogen’ exhibition village at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
The team covered a 1,003 km loop on a single 3-minute charge.
Frank Marotte, CEO of Toyota France, comments: “I would like to thank the teams of Toyota France and Toyota Europe, as well as Victorien at Energy Observer, with whom we share the same vision and the same ambition. It is by strong partnerships that we will be able to contribute to a better and more environmentally-friendly society. With Toyota’s ambition to go ‘Beyond Zero’ in mind: take a seat for the future.”
Erussard adds: “From the driver seat, this economy performance requires the same ‘wheel touch’ than when you steer a sailing boat in tricky conditions, and try to have the minimum drag, optimized curves and breakings…very interesting… The new Toyota Mirai is in my opinion the best road car in the world combining zero emission with comfort, driving sensations and design for long trips!
“I am proud to collaborate with this visionary and avant-garde car manufacturer. For over 20 years, this mobility company has been committed to reducing direct emissions from their vehicles to zero.”
As part of the ‘Paris of Hydrogen’ exhibition, the Eiffel Tower was illuminated with certified renewable hydrogen using an electro hydrogen generator.
“We need to cooperate and mix all the technologies and renewable energies available to reach significant results.”
In December, 2019, Energy Observer announces the launch of EODev, a French hydrogen technology incubator one of the innovative players in the French hydrogen industry that was born out of the research and development carried out on board Energy Observer. Its its first round of funding raised a total amount of €20 million .
“EODev announced in 2020 the closing of a first round of funding to accelerate the industrialization and commercialization of its solutions developed around the latest hydrogen technologies: medium-power hydrogen power generators (GEH2®); on-board hydrogen energy systems (REXH2®) for maritime and river use, and mobile floating hydrogen refueling stations (STSH2) for the production and distribution of green hydrogen.”
“Today the prototypes are used in many events and demonstrations, the REXH2 is in the first H2 taxiboat (Hynova), the first series of GEH2 have been sold and we invest in the assembly line to optimize their cost and maintenance,” he adds.
2021 is a important year for sustainability and a vital one in the battle against the climate crisis. In November, the COP26 summit gets underway in the city of Glasgow. Erussard has high hopes for the gathering of world leaders.
“Of course, to keep the temperature increase below 1.5°C is vital. To make new and more ambitious commitments and to honor the Paris Agreement. That there will be more makers, interesting solutions, and cooperation between nations and technologies. We need to cooperate and mix all the technologies and renewable energies available to reach significant results.”
Finally, we asked Erussard what role hydrogen technology will play in the mobility sector by the end of the decade.
“Hydrogen mobility already exists (More than 7000 H2 vehicles in California today) but it will be multiplied by the number of vehicles (cars, trucks, utilities, trains, planes…) as well as by the infrastructures and their implementation. Storage and distribution will benefit from new technologies and a much wider range of H2 vehicles, offered by the leading brands (Including the major Europeans).
“Massive green and blue hydrogen production plans (With Engie and Air Liquide for instance in France and the U.S.) will allow to lower the cost of the H2 kilo and get it very competitive against diesel and fossil fuels. And much more efficient!”
“The French national recovery plan, and many similar strategic plans around the world, recommends to decarbonize a part of the industry as a priority, to help this massive clean hydrogen production investments. And this will have a direct benefit on mobility, in terms of cost and availability of clean hydrogen everywhere. Only in California, there will be more than 200 H2 stations by 2030!” he concludes.
In March 2020, Energy Observer left Europe for the Caribbean and the Pacific and is currently heading for New Caledonia.