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Anchors Aweigh: Boat and Ship Power Is Turning Green

Energy sources that propel ships and boats are going through revolutionary changes that are just as extreme as going from wind to steam power.

Energy Observer (Fig. 1) is an experimental boat that is embarking on a worldwide voyage starting from Paris that will take six years to visit 50 countries and 101 ports of call. A floating laboratory, Energy Observer uses only renewable energy sources to power its propulsion engines.

Victorien Erussard, captain of Energy Observer, said, “What we are doing with Energy Observer is allowing nature’s energies, as well as those of our society, to collaborate. We are bringing, around our project, the knowledge from companies, laboratories, startups, and institutions together.”

1. The Energy Observer Catamaran is actually a floating laboratory that employs several renewable energy technologies that powers the boat.


Built in Canada, Energy Observer is a maxi-catamaran that was originally 24.38 meters long, has been extended four times, and now measures up to 30.5 meters long and 12.80 meters wide. By using electrolysis of sea water it will produce hydrogen for a fuel cell that supplies electrical power to charge batteries that drive two reversible electric motors. It is also supported by a mix of other energy sources that include:

  • Three types of solar panels
  • Two vertical-axis wind turbines
  • One traction kite
  • Li-ion batteries

It will rely on sun or wind during the day and tap into its hydrogen reservoirs at night, or in bad weather.

2. Energy Observer systems include the necessary technologies to provide power for the boat from wind, sun and hydrogen obtained from sea water.

Figure 2 shows the various numbered systems included in the Energy Observer. They are:

  1. Photovoltaic Panels
    There are 130 m2 of photovoltaic panels combining three different technologies: conformable, bifacial, with a non-slip coating 21KWc.
  2. Vertical-Axis Wind Turbine
    Two vertical wind turbines will produce about 3 kW, which is 10% of the power needed for the two electrical motors. Each turbine is 2 meters high and has been developed specifically for this boat. 
  3. Desalination System
    Seawater desalination system produced by reverse osmosis with two-story 105 L/h.
  4. Maritime Routing
    Development of a routing software, to optimize the route plan by incorporating the parameters related to sailing conditions (waves, wind, currents, etc.) but also to optimize production of energy on board (sunshine, cloud cover, hydrogen levels, remaining distance).
  5. Monitoring
    On-board and remote real-time tracking of the performance, management, and optimization of energy flow.
  6. Two-Story H2O Compressors
    For the compression of hydrogen from 30 to 350 bars in tanks.
  7. Smart-Traction Kite Sail
    The kite sail serves a dual purpose of assisting in navigation and generating power. The sail will be used during long voyages, or when there’s wind at high altitude. In its navigation mode, the kite sail converts the mechanical energy of its propeller into electrical energy—between 2 to 4 kW.
  8. Electrolyzer
    To break down the H2O molecule into oxygen (O2) and dihydrogen (H2). While the oxygen will be released into the atmosphere, the hydrogen will be stored in gaseous form in order to conserve the excess energy 4 Nm3/h at 30 bars.
  9. Hydrogen Storage
    Hydrogen tanks for long-term energy storage 2 × 4,322 L tanks, or 62kg of H2.
  10. Fuel Cell
    To generate electricity from the stored hydrogen which acts as a range extender for the vessel, coupled with an absorption machine for air conditioning. The fuel cell uses a proton exchange membrane that relies on hydrogen and oxygen as input products. The fuel cell can produce 26 kWh using 1.6 kg of hydrogen.
  11. 400V Batteries
    Li-ion batteries for short-term energy storage and power demands’ management of 106 Kwh for the motorization, electrolysis, compression, and 220V and 24V power.
  12. Propulsion
    Two 97% efficient electric motors reversible in hydrogenerators when kite sailing at 2 × 41 KW at 3,000 rpm in propulsion mode and 2 × 2.5 KW in hydrogeneration mode.

Hydrogen advantages include:

  • Up to three times more energy per unit mass than diesel, and 2.5 times more than natural gas.
  • It is the lightest and most abundant chemical element in the universe.
  • Its combustion does not produce CO2 or fine particles.
  • It is storable.

The hydrogen production process begins with reverse osmosis that desalinates the sea water and feeds it into a solar-powered electrolyzer, which splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. Hydrogen is stored in tanks for use with the fuel cell.


Aquarius Marine Renewable Energy (MRE

Eco Marine Power (EMP) of Japan announced that it is preparing for sea trials of its Aquarius Marine Renewable Energy (MRE). This preparatory work will lead to the world’s first installation of an integrated rigid sail and solar power system for ships using EMP’s patented technologies. This represents a sustainable future for shipping that is expected to result in its deployment on ships ranging from coastal cargo vessels to bulk ore carriers and cruise ships.

Aquarius MRE is an advanced integrated system of rigid sails, marine-grade solar panels, energy storage modules, and marine computers that will enable ships to tap into renewable energy by harnessing the power provided by the wind and sun. Use of these alternative sources of energy and propulsion will reduce fuel consumption, lower air pollution, and cut CO2 emissions.  The rigid sails used by Aquarius MRE are based on EMP's EnergySail technology. These renewable energy devices can even be used when a ship is at anchor or in harbor. Each EnergySail can be configured with a mix of sensors, photovoltaic panels, or other power generation devices. Figure 3 shows an artist’s conception of a ship with Aquarius MRE.


3. Aquarius MRE consists of an integrated system of rigid sails, marine-grade solar panels, energy storage modules, and marine computers that allow the ship to generate power from wind and sun.


A feasibility study, currently underway, involves several large bulk carriers. For each ship, an estimate of the propulsive power that could be provided by an EnergySail array will be prepared according to the routes they operate on. In addition, the total amount of solar power that could be installed on each vessel will be determined. On-board testing and data collection will be undertaken as required.
After the feasibility study is completed, one ship will be selected for the sea trials phase. During this phase a trial configuration that will incorporate all the elements of Aquarius MRE will be installed and evaluated during a period of approximately 12 to 18 months. Several strategic partners are involved in the Aquarius MRE Project, including KEI System Co. Ltd., The Furukawa Battery Company, and Teramoto Iron Works Co. Ltd.


 4. EnergySail is a rigid sail device that allows ships to harness the power of the wind and sun.


The patented EnergySail (Fig. 4) is a revolutionary rigid sail device designed by Eco Marine Power that allows ships to harness the power of the wind and sun in order to reduce fuel costs plus lower noxious gas and carbon emissions. EnergySail is unlike any other sail—it has been designed to withstand high winds or even sudden micro-bursts.

EnergySail is positioned to act similar to a typical rigid sail, i.e., the force of the wind on the sail helps move the ship forward. It is propulsive force, not electrical power as such. However, the sail can also be fitted with wind power devices such as turbines.

The EnergySail can be fitted with a range of renewable energy technologies such as solar panels or wind power devices. It is a truly unique renewable energy platform specifically designed for shipping that can be fitted to a wide variety of vessels from large Capesize bulk ore carriers and RoRo vessels to naval and coastguard patrol ships.

You can configure the EnergySail to suit the operational profile of a vessel. For example, you can change the number and type of solar panels or install other compatible equipment. Therefore, you can configure the device for a particular type of ship, for the route the vessel operates on, and/or the operational profile or mission profile of the vessel.

The EnergySail can also be used when a ship is in port or harbor, which is a major advantage over traditional and rigid sail designs. A typical Aquarius MRE System would include several EnergySails along with energy storage modules and solar panels either mounted on the sails or elsewhere on the ship.

At times the sun could be hitting both PV surfaces of the EnergySail and at other times just one. The issue with PV now is the performance has improved and the cost has come down over the last five years so that it’s feasible now to use them on vertical surfaces. EMP is investigating a new type of PV that is very lightweight and thin.

Aquarius Eco Ship

The Aquarius Eco Ship is a sustainable ship design concept by EMP that incorporates the Aquarius MRE System (patent pending) along with other fuel and emission reduction technologies, including the Aquarius MAS computer system. This combination of technologies could lead to an annual fuel reduction of 40% or more plus significantly lower noxious gas and carbon and particulate matter emissions.

Aquarius MAS (Management and Automation System) is a compact marine computer that monitors the performance of a solar power array and battery pack, logs data, switches equipment on/off, calculates vessel emissions, records fuel consumption, and displays system alarms. In addition, the Aquarius MAS can monitor system performance and alarms from a wide variety of other equipment and sensors installed on ships.

An Aquarius Eco Ship could include up to 1 MWp of solar power and enough energy storage modules so the ship wouldn’t need to use auxiliary diesel generators while in port, enabling the ship to operate emissions-free. The energy storage modules could be charged via the solar panels, by the ship’s main generators or from shore power when available.

Both the Aquarius Eco Ship and Aquarius MRE have been designed to take into account the reality of operating rigid sails on ocean-going ships and include a range of safety features. The rigid sails, for example, can be lowered and stored when not in use or during emergencies.

The revolutionary Aquarius MRE technology will enable ships of all types and sizes to safely use renewable energy in order to reduce fuel consumption and lower harmful emissions in a cost-effective way. An Aquarius Eco Ship is an example of how this system could be integrated into a new ship design, although it is also suitable for existing ship designs and could be retrofitted to vessels already in service.

Eco Marine Power is currently working on applying its Aquarius MRE System technology to an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) concept. This USV (Fig. 5) will utilize renewable energy technologies that would allow the vessel to stay on at sea longer or operate in stealth mode if required. A variation of the design will also include EMP’s EnergySail technology. Typical missions or roles for this unmanned vessel may include marine surveys, port patrols, surveillance of marine parks, and cleanup of urban waterways.

5. An Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) using Aquarius MRE System technology.


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