Part zero-emission experiment, part floating laboratory, the Energy Observer recently arrived in Paris on the first stop of its six-year, 50-country mission around the world. The vessel is a refurbished racing catamaran that is powered by wind, solar and hydrogen generated from seawater through electrolysis.
The idea of a renewable energy-powered sea vessel isn't especially novel. After all, we've been traveling the seas for thousands of years under wind power. But the Energy Observer is something different. Packed with a series of hi-tech, renewable energy systems, this zero-emission boat is set to demonstrate the effectiveness of using multiple energy sources to ensure a continuous supply of power under a variety of environmental conditions.
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The vessel's primary sources of power are its solar panels and wind turbines, but it's the hydrogen power systems that are the most innovative. An on-board electrolyser can break seawater down into oxygen and dihydrogen. The hydrogen is then stored in tanks in gaseous form to be used at times when no wind or solar power is available, making the vessel entirely functional at all times regardless of weather conditions.
The vessel's electric motors are also reversible, functioning as hydroelectric generators when the boat is shifted into kite sailing mode.
The entire undertaking is intended to be a floating demonstration of an autonomous, self-sufficient sea-faring vessel that will be able to indefinitely traverse the globe in all weather conditions.
The stopover in Paris is the first of 101 planned over the next six years in an effort to demonstrate this model of energy independence as a functional alternative to fossil fuels. The team also envisions the hydrogen technologies developed and demonstrated on the water to have practical land-based applications.
The Energy Observer has been dubbed the "Solar Impulse of the seas" recalling the historic solar-powered plane that recently circumnavigated the world. Much like the Solar Impulse project, the Energy Observer is as much a way of showing how these new eco-friendly technologies can be put to practical use as anything.
Solar Impulse pilot Bertrand Piccard was in Paris to meet up with the Energy Observer team recently and gifted the vessel's crew with the compass that he used during his record-breaking voyage. A symbolic passing of the baton from one environmentally friendly adventurer to another.
Source: Energy ObserverView gallery - 12 images