Known as the “Solar Impulse of the Seas,” the first self-sufficient boat powered only by renewable energies — and not just the wind in its sails — hopes to make a historic six-year trip around the world.

The Solar Impulse, the plane that completed its round-the-world trip in July 2015 without the use of fuel became the first solar aeroplane ever to fly through the whole night.

Now the water-borne version of the Solar Impulse will take to the seas, only powered by the sun, the wind and self-generated hydrogen when it sets sail. The boat will begin its first of 101 stops in Paris, visiting 50 countries.

Originally designed in 1983, the 100-foot solar powered boat had great success in open-sea sailing races. From here, The Energy Observer project was dreamed up in 2015 by skippers Frédéric Dahirel and Victorien Erussard, with scuba diver and filmmaker Jérôme Delafosse also working behind the project.

“I’m passionate about new technologies,” Erussard said. “Building a self-sufficient boat could have seemed unrealistic, but this is going to be an incredible vessel. It’s very promising for the future.”

Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University engineering professor who is working to help countries convert to 100 per cent renewable energies by 2050 said: “I believe that it is fantastic that a boat powered by hydrogen . . . will travel the world”.

He added: “It is an important step forward and consistent with this proposed path to 100 per cent clean, renewable energy worldwide for all purposes to solve energy security, job creation, air pollution and climate problems.”

The plan is to power the boats batteries in good weather with solar and wind energy. “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,” explained Erussard.

The vessel will therefore not use any carbon-emitting fossil fuels, which is the case for 96 per cent of boats today.

The catamaran has an interesting past, having won the Jules Verne trophy, for a team sailing non-stop round the world, in 1994. The vessel was bought for half a million euros and extended by six meters, to 30.5 metres for the project.

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 told AFP.

“It’s very promising for marine transport,” Hulot added. “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.”

Energy Observer’s voyage around the world is expected to take six years. Once the vessel has crossed the Mediterranean, it will venture out into the Atlantic and then Pacific oceans.

Funding remains an obstacle, with the expedition expected to cost at least four million euros a year, in particular to develop travelling cost. However the team remains confident that it will get the funds.

The six year planned voyage finds its inspiration from its airplane mentor the Solar Impulse, which completed its journey around the world on renewable energy and accomplished “what everyone said was impossible,” said Delafosse.


Image Credit: Energy Observer

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