Emirates America’s Cup team working on hydrogen chase boat

Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ), winner of the 36th America’s Cup this past March, is developing a hydrogen chase boat they will use in the 37th Cup – dates and location of which will soon be announced.

The Team has been working with AFCryo, a New Zealand company that designs, develops and manufactures composite cryostats .

What’s a cryostat, you ask, and what does it have to do with hydrogen chase boats? A cryostat is the machine that enables the ultra low temperatures used in cryogenics – probably most famous as the technology for ‘freezing’ humans so they can be unfrozen at some point in the future.

Those ultra low temperatures are also required for superconducting metals – metals that have almost zero electrical resistance. And AFCCryo works with a UK company,  Clean Power Hydrogen, that has developed and patented a membrane-free electrolysis system that produces green hydrogen. You can read all about it on the AFCryo website.

Technical Director Hugh Reynolds, who is leading the hydrogen chase boat for AFCryo said “It is exciting to work with ETNZ on such an aggressive development curve and timeline to deliver on water Hydrogen storage and power. We have been working in cryogenics and clean-tech solutions for 17 years and this opportunity aligns perfectly with our view of sustainable future energy.”

Design being developed for hydrofoiling powertrain

Designers from the Emirates Team have approved the feasibility of the idea and are now working on the powertrain for the prototype hydrofoiling boat. Among the many challenges is making sure it will stand up to  the demands of supporting an AC75 sailing yacht, which can achieve speeds of 53.31 knot (98.73 km/h • 61.35 mph).

hydrogen chase boat prototype with Toyota logo on hullETNZ Lead Designer Dan Bernasconi said “Part of the reason there aren’t a lot of hydrogen-powered small craft around is because, like any early-stage technology, it’s expensive to start with. Until you get economies of scale, you are paying a premium. It’s something we’re happy to invest in ourselves right now, but we will certainly be looking for sponsors to partner with us.”

It is not entirely clear who all of the current development partners are, but the news release images have a Toyota logo on the side of the hull. Toyota has a relationship with ETNZ going back to 1992, and they have been deeply involved with the systems on the hydrogen-powered Energy Observer research ship.

Part of the evaluation of the hydrogen chase boat is the length of time it could stay active, taking into account the weight, size and efficiency of the engines. The system uses hydrogen fuel cells and batteries and AFCryo estimates one of its 40-foot production systems would provide enough hydrogen to fuel 10 chase boats per day.

Possibly hydrogen chase boats for all teams

The move into hydrogen has initial support from other America’s Cup teams, including the INEOS TEAM UK which was the British Challenger to 2021 Cup and is Challenger of Record for the 37th competition.

Principal Skipper Sir Ben Ainslie said, “For nearly two centuries the America’s Cup has pushed the boundaries in design and engineering, whilst ensuring innovation benefits the wider marine industry. With so much investment in hydrogen across the world, shifting to foiling chase boats, powered by hydrogen could well prove to be a sustainable and practical solution for the future of the marine industry.”

Terry Hutchinson, Skipper and Executive Director of New York Yacht Club American Magic, the U.S. Challenger for the 36th America’s Cup, said, “We support the Defender’s efforts to apply their performance innovation skills to sustainable and environmentally friendly technology. It is impressive to see how innovation remains the driving force behind the America’s Cup after 170 years of racing.”

The hope is that the Protocol for the 37th America’s Cup will contain a provision that all teams must use hydrogen powered support boats. This would first need to be officially supported by the Ineos Team UK. If it does move forward it would also apply to other classes and hydrogen chase boats across the board would have a considerable impact on reducing fossil fuels in the total America’s Cup event.

As for using hydrogen on the AC75’s themselves, that is more problematic. They have about 50kg / 100 lbs of batteries on board to power the motors that drive the hydraulic pumps to raise and lower the hydrofoils as well as flap movements, rudder adjustments and the instrumentation systems.

Emirates Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton said, “Emirates Team New Zealand continues to be at the forefront of innovation and we intend to really drive the development curve of new and clean technology in the marine industry.”

“It is our hope that we can make a seismic shift into hydrogen power and an emission free statement for the industry. This initiative is not a small undertaking and is not without risk, as we have very specific operating criteria within the team and the America’s Cup.”

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