The Energy Observer: developing pioneering technology on our oceans

CleanTech News has spoken to Louis-Noël Viviès, General Director of Energy Observer, an innovative and pioneering catamaran dedicated to developing cutting-edge sustainable energy technology. 

The Energy Observer project, born in 2013, is a laboratory for ecological transition designed to push back the limits of zero-emission technologies. It is a 100% energy self-sufficient boat which sails around the world to prove the usefulness of sustainable technology. 

Hydrogen, solar, wind and water power are all experimented with and tested onboard. This is with the hope to make clean energies a practical reality for all. Their mission is, “through expeditions and innovations, Energy Observer is exploring practical solutions whilst developing new technologies to accelerate ecological transition”.

Using a hydrogen fuel cell made with help from Toyota, the boat is also covered in solar panels is making its own hydrogen fuel from the seawater underneath. Their cutting-edge technology generates enough energy to power nine homes each day.

The Energy Observer: developing pioneering technology on our oceans - CleanTech News
Energy Observer Productions – George Conty

During the day, the 200 square meters of solar panels charge up the boat’s lithium-ion batteries. Any extra energy is stored as hydrogen. This is thanks to a special fuel cell called Range Extender H2 (Rex H2) which was made by Toyota. 

Rex H2 was made using components from Toyota’s hydrogen-powered Mirai vehicle line. The technology removes salt from the seawater it brings in, then separates the hydrogen from the water with electricity.

Speaking to CleanTech News, Louis-Noël Viviès, General Director of Energy Observer stated:

The maritime industry is one of the biggest fuel consumers and therefore polluter. The industry is looking for concrete solutions, affordable and reliable if they want to achieve their goals.

The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) has a target of a reduction of 50% of the GHG (Green House Gases) by 2050 (Compared to 2008 levels). We strongly believe in hydrogen as a good solution to store clean energies onboard, but we work on many other technologies for the maritime industry too.”

In conversation with Louis-Noël Viviès
What makes your technology unique?

The work we have done during more than 30,000 miles on corrosion, cooling and warming systems, vibrations, on hydrogen and clean energy systems, in the most demanding conditions. And the way we make them work together. If it works at sea, it will be reliable and durable on the land! Energy Observer is just pushing third parties technologies and combining them, in the worst conditions to get them affordable sooner than if they were developed on land.

What are your sustainability goals?

Provide affordable and user-friendly solutions to the maritime and outdoor communities, avoiding millions of tons of CO2. A fuel cell lasts more than 15,000 working hours with no maintenance, much more sustainable than any combustion engine (about three times more).

Why did you choose to incorporate more than one green technology into your vessel?

As previously told, we are not fanatics about one single technology. We use hydrogen storage mixed with battery storage, aero systems with hydro optimisation. The best and cheapest energy is the one you do not consume so that it’s much more efficient to make renewables work together. That’s why the hydrogen is so important, as it allows to store energy on a long term basis.

For instance, if you use the good propellers simultaneously with the OceanWings, you will create enough apparent wind to optimise the efficiency of the wings. Same as in America’s Cup flying boats: you create your own wind and a brand new virtuous circle.

Diversity of technologies, of energy sources, of cultures, that’s the key. And we believe it will be the key for land-based smart-grids too. Use solar energy if available, and/or wind, and/or geothermal, bio-gases or gravity where you can, mix them to avoid intermittency – and store your surplus in hydrogen!

Why do you think Energy Observer is a genuine experimental platform for future energies?

Because she sails in very rough conditions, in the Arctic ice, in the hottest waters and countries, crosses oceans, gales. And the engineers are trapped onboard once the boat has left for a passage: they live 24/7 on the computers, tanks, fuel cells, actuators, systems and need to get them reliable for their own safety or comfort. Future energies will have a future if they actually work in any kind of conditions, not only in a clean and dry laboratory…

The Energy Observer: developing pioneering technology on our oceans - CleanTech News
Energy Observer Productions – Amelie Conty
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your company’s vision?

The Covid-19 did not affect our vision: we desperately need to save the biodiversity and the last wild areas which protect us from these viruses. We now have to take concrete actions to save the existence of the mammals on this planet, including human beings. This means to offer autonomy and self-sufficient sources of energy and food everywhere, even in the most remote or poor areas. It is the only way to avoid massive deforestation and migrations, useless transportations of petrol, and many other consequences as wars for energy. We have a Cortex, not only a striatum, and we should use it before it’s too late.

What are the company’s goals for the future?

For the very near future, we will offer affordable hydrogen solutions for our communities: clean and silent power generators, affordable smart-grid solutions, energy management software. And convince market leaders to invest with us in these technologies, that would be a real achievement because we would have moved the lines! On the other hand, we work on a new boat-laboratory project that would not only be self-sufficient in energy but in food too for the crew! After all, many of us are French and food is a serious matter. A kind of eco-Waterworld of the 21st century, able to resist to any oceans rise…

With innovative and pioneering technology in development on Energy Observer, along with advancements in the sailing industry, it is strikingly clear that individuals and companies are dedicated to cleaning up the maritime industry.

Catherine Gray

Catherine Gray is a Senior Writer at CleanTech News, eager to be part of the important discussion around clean technological advances, promoting and celebrating the things that can be achieved. Catherine is particularly interested in how writing can have an impact on people’s lives and hopes to make her own mark in the CleanTech community through championing new innovative technologies. With huge admiration for companies and individuals with the dedication to make positive advances towards a carbon net-zero future and an advocate for sustainably in day to day life, Catherine looks forward to being actively involved in the CleanTech community.