Monaco conference and round tables explore hydrogen, sustainability

To say that the Yacht Club de Monaco was a hive of activity during the 10th annual Monaco Energy Boat Challenge (MEBC) would be a drastic understatement. At any given time along the waterfront paddocks there were dozens of university and college students from 30 teams tuning up their boats, transporting them to or from the launching ramp, adjusting propellers, analyzing live data…the 20 commercial boats were taking clients out for sea trials or coming in to charge at the YCM E-Dock, representatives from those companies were interviewing students at the Job Forum, races were underway out on the water, exhibitors participating in the SeaLab area were showcasing and discussing their latest technologies and innovations…

…and two stories above this frenetic activity there was an area of relative calm in the club’s ballroom, which had been transformed into a presentation and conference centre. It was here that two days of round table discussions were being held to explore some of the most important topics and pressing issues around the transition from a fossil-fuel-driven maritime and boating industry to one of alternative and renewable energy sources.

Students working in the paddock area of the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge

This is the second of three Plugboats articles about the 2022 MEBC. The first covered the commercial boats in the Open Seas Class of the Challenge and the third will cover the student boats and races.

Plugboats report on Commercial e-boats at the 2023 MEBC

In the ballroom, the first day’s programming revolved around general sustainability while the second focussed on hydrogen and related fuel systems and technologies. Increasing and exploring hydrogen use is strongly supported and encouraged by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and Monaco’s Mission for Energy Transition, which the Prince established to limit greenhouse gas emissions and develop renewable energy in the principality.

Two days of Monaco conference / round table

Topics for Day One:

  • Development and production of the new America’s Cup hydrogen chase boats
  • Race boats of the future
  • Designing and building sustainable race boats
  • Importance of collective initiatives in boat building
  • Moving from prototype to mainstream in large yacht sustainability

Topics for Day Two – the 4th Monaco Hydrogen Working Group Round Table:

  • An overview of the “hydrogen society” and the required production and distribution infrastructure development
  • What H2 solutions are available now and in the future for the maritime sector, and the relative maturity of those solutions
  • Fuel cell technology, from small scale to large scale developments
  • Integrating H2 in boat design, from conception to reality

With everything else going on throughout the week it was impossible for me to attend all the sessions, so I am grateful that the MEBC captured everything on video to help me with this overview. If you are interested in all the details, the full videos can be seen on the MEBC website:

»» Sustainability Presentations and Round Tables
»» Monaco Hydrogen Working Group Round Table

Day One: Sustainability transition: challenges, engagement, adoption

Before summarizing the conference and round table, kudos and congratulations must go to moderator/host Laurent Perignon, a seasoned professional of the superyachting industry with 20 years experience in various positions and roles. He has been involved in a range of projects that bring forward new technologies, in particular hydrogen, and is deeply convinced that the yachting industry is in the unique position to combine the early adoption of emission-free solutions and be at the forefront of the technological evolutions needed to make it a lot “greener” than it is today.

Throughout the two days Laurent exhibited the knowledge and personal skills required to deftly and charmingly perform the unenviable tasks of: introducing the topics and speakers while providing easily understood information for the audience; ensuring that each of the speakers was given the time to fully present and express their ideas and opinions; and inviting questions from audience members, all the time making sure everything ran on schedule.

American Magic hydrogen chase boat concept drawing

The conference began with opening words from YCM Secretary-General Bernard D’Alessandri, then M. Perignon moved straight to the first topic and guests who would speak about the hydrogen electric hydrofoiling chase boats now required for the America’s Cup teams.

America’s Cup hydrofoiling hydrogen chase boats, E1 Series

Luca Santella, Head of Product Strategy at Bluegame Yachts (a division of San Lorenzo Yachts), spoke about American Magic, the H2 chase boat being produced for the US team and was joined by Umberto De Luca, Project Manager for the boat of the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team.

Both gentlemen went through some of the details of the chase boats and noted that designing and building of them is both a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous challenge. The rules of the Cup state that each competitor must have a hydrogen-powered support vessel at least 10 metres long, that starts foiling at 24 knots and can achieve a top speed of 50 knots and a 180-nautical-mile range. Ohh…and it has to be ready within the next few months.

The way these speed and range criteria are achieved is by combining hydrogen storage and fuel cells with battery power. The fuel cells are the range extenders while the batteries actually drive the electric motors. The reason for this is that the energy output of a fuel cell comes through a chemical reaction and therefore is constant. The motor requires radically different and frequently changing electric input, which is where batteries excel.

E1 Series Racebird electric boat in water at Yacht Club de Monaco

Next, the CEO of the E1 Series electric boat racing tour – Rodi Basso – was introduced and gave a slightly different take on things because the requirements for the 7 metre (22 ft) E1 foiling Racebird are quite different than those for the chase boats. They are also battery-electric boats powered by a 150kW motor.

Mr. Basso agreed with the other speakers that foiling is a fantastic way to combine speed and range, but that there is also a physical limit (not being reached yet) to how fast a boat can move on foils.

Another point he made is that he believes ‘efficiency’ is a better word to use, rather than ‘sustainability’, when talking about the development of non-fossil fuel propulsion. His point is that this is the parameter that engineers use to measure progress (he graduated cum laude in Aerospace Engineering), and it is the philosophy that drove the Formula E electric car racing series to major improvements in batteries, capacitors, and every aspect of the electric drive system.

Sustainability in racing yachts, IMOCA

The next topic was truly about sustainability, concentrating on the issues of the materials and processes required to build competitive boats and the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the energy use, carbon emissions and recyclability of each component.

Michel Marie of Marineshift 360 was joined by Imogen Dinham-Price, Sustainability Manager for the IMOCA Class of racing sailboats.

Marineshift 360 is an LCA tool designed specifically for the marine industry to accelerate positive, sustainable changes within the design and manufacturing stages. They have come up with an easily accessed software that offers an effective way to use sustainable design to reduce both short and long-term impacts.

IMOCA class sailing yacht Sea Explorer in harbour at Monaco Yacht CLub

The best description is probably from the company’s own FAQ sheet:

  • The software tool connects with a database of over 200 entries that contain environmental footprints based on 30 years of boat building experience.
  • Users select material types, volumes and processes and the Marineshift program quickly assesses and compares parts based on environmental footprint, not only during manufacture, but over every step of the component’s lifespan.
  • Users have immediate feedback and can adjust inputs as necessary, take measures to reduce impacts, and make informed decisions at design stage

Ms. Dinham Price spoke of how the IMOCA Class has introduced LCA into all new constructions,  and is using Marineshift to analyze the 13 boats currently in build. Because this IMOCA database takes in all competing boats, it enables the organization to recognize the ‘hot spots’ for the class in general and is being used to adjust and formulate future rules on boat construction, transportation (of both materials and people), and end-of-life requirements.

The importance of collective initiatives

I was honoured and flattered to be invited to sit on this round table with Alex Bamberg, CEO of the Aqua superPower rapid marine charging network and Charles Dence of Spark Marine Projects, which provides consulting to help clients navigate the yacht production process from initial concept through design and engineering, manufacturing  and after-sale maintenance and refits.

Aqua superPower charger at YCM E-Dock of Monaco Energy Boat Challenge

The basic theme was that electric and hybrid boats and yachts require a great degree of cooperation between the naval architects, motor manufacturers, battery and all of the energy source providers – from solar panels to charging stations – because everything needs to be efficiently coordinated. Where a fossil fuel boat (at its most basic) has a motor, a fuel and a tank, the interaction between the electron movement in the motors, batteries and charging is much more complicated.

The other important point made was that the earlier in the design process that all of the suppliers and services start working together and communicating, the more efficient and pleasant the result will be for the end consumer.

Moving from prototype to mainstream adoption

The final session of the first day saw a discussion among five designers, engineers and builders of large yachts who are working to improve sustainability of materials and propulsion.

Luca Santella of San Lorenzo returned and was joined by Enric Benco, Co-Founder of GS4C and the Futures Programme of The Race Around the World; Adrien Thoumazeau, Principal Naval Architect / Head of Research & Development at Oceanco/Lateral Naval Engineering; Jarkko Jämsén of Navia Design; and Nino Ascone, Head of Engineering and Design FSD at Feretti Group.

What became immediately apparent with the short presentations by each speaker is that they are all working extremely hard at ways to reduce carbon emissions from propulsion, lessen the impact on the environment of materials used, and generally work towards a ‘greener’ future for yachting. But the bigger the boat, the harder the task.

As some mentioned, the realities of physics get in the way. While it may be desirable to have a battery electric superyacht that never needs to fuel up, fossil fuels are an incredibly efficient and very cost-effective way (in terms of money) to move large objects both on land and in the water.

In terms of propulsion, a wide spectrum of new technologies are being considered by these companies: hydrogen fuel cells, methanol as a midway step to hydrogen, along with e-fuels and dual hydrogen/diesel combustion engines.

Monaco Conference slide showing acceptance of Hydrogen technologies

Wingsails as well as traditional sails are being used on large yachts, and solar panels are recognized as a fairly easy way to use the surface area of big vessels to reduce overall energy consumption.

The challenges, though, are large and long term. It takes years, not months to create a large yacht from conception, so it is difficult to know what stage new technologies will be at and whether or not materials like hydrogen will be readily available.

Many clients spending large amounts of money are resistant to being what they see as the ‘guinea pigs’ for new things, and designers and builders can understandably be reluctant to push too hard with a customer who may not be open to new ideas. Then there are insurance companies that are renowned for being conservative and wary of things that don’t have enough data available for the actuaries to analyze.

All in all it was a fascinating discussion to see all of the things – and combinations of things – being considered, but a good dose of reality to see that significant change is a long way off. As one of the panellists said, the process of introducing new technologies is a bit like a superyacht itself – it takes a long time to turn it around…but once turned it is impossible to stop.

Day Two: The 4th Monaco Hydrogen Round Table

The Monaco Hydrogen Round Table of the MEBC was initiated in 2020 as a way to explore the general topic of the future of hydrogen in the maritime and transport sectors.

As interest in hydrogen has grown, so have the sessions – both in scope and attendance.  Every aspect of hydrogen as a fuel or energy source has been explored and discussed – from production technologies to infrastructure and storage updates to the different ways the element is and will be used in the maritime sector.

One of the strengths of the Round Table is that it brings together all participants – public authorities and classification bodies, generator developers, engine manufacturers, naval architects and shipyards – with the objective of ensuring hydrogen plays an essential role in decarbonization. What was most fascinating for me is the sheer number of solutions available that can be adopted individually or in cooperation with other systems.

Overview / current state of ‘hydrogen society’

The first session analyzed the state of a “hydrogen society” – production and distribution infrastructure development as well as existing and planned projects both within water transport and beyond.

Anne-Marie Perez, director of  the Capénergies competitiveness cluster for the South of France, highlighted the impact of combined action by public authorities and private companies and research in France and Europe.

Monaco Conference presenter talks about Hydrogen infrastructure in France and EuropeWith an even wider lens, Paul Lucchese, Chair of the International Energy Agency’s Hydrogen TCP (Technology Collaboration Programme) explained how the potential market for hydrogen in the marine sector could progress with a variety of options such as transforming ammonia or methanol – directly or via fuel cells – or adapting internal combustion engines.

He laid out two main charts. One showed the relative maturity stage of each of the technologies, comparing the technical and scientific maturity with the real life market maturity. The other showed where each of the technologies was most likely to be employed in the which waterways around the world.

Fuel Cell Technology, R&D and market ready technology

From here the members of the different round tables throughout the day had many opinions, but all were in agreement on one thing: there is no one ‘magic bullet’ that works for all solutions. This was first highlighted by Martin Camus, Marine Hydrogen Project Coordinator at LMG Marin, whose presentation set out the various technologies available, accompanied by concise explanations of each.

LMG Marin is involved in the design of cargo and passenger vessels of every size and speed, using batteries, fuel cells and wind systems as appropriate. The hydrogen solutions he outlined included liquid hydrogen used in conjunction with fuel cells, low temperature Proton Exchange Membrane fuels cells (operating below 100º C), high temperature PEM cells (up to 200º) and Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC).

Different sizes of hydrogen boat projects in development

Each of them has advantages and disadvantages in terms of storage requirements and application. Low temperature PEM cells are the type being used for applications like the America’s Cup hydrofoilers mentioned earlier.  High temperature PEMS are generally more suited to larger applications, especially stationary installments. SOFCs are a promising technology for long haul vessels, largely because of their durability and long life span.

Fuel cell technology, from small scale to large scale developments

Manufacturers of electric-hydrogen generators for boats were next to take the stage:  Thomas Grosjean, fuel cell engineer in charge of maritime and waterway development at Hélion (Alstom), Christian Vinther, manager of the marine division at Ballard, Jérémie Lagarrigue, CEO of EODev and Jules Billiet, CEO of Inocel.

All of the companies have many marine projects underway, all using the concept of starting with a basic building block and then integrating those into boats using modular power increases. They are all excited by the technology and its potential, but also feel somewhat thwarted by external constraints: hydrogen storage, lack of refuelling infrastructure and the slow pace at which regulations are being implemented.

Norwegian ferry shown at Monaco Hydrogen Conference

Later on in the day, Engel de Boer, Global Yacht Segment Director for Lloyd’s Register, explained some of the factors that insurers need to take into consideration as hydrogen and other alternate fuels become more mainstream. They include things like fuel properties, tank volume, ventilation and the materials used to house and contain the element. He said that they are intently studying the safety aspects of every system, but it takes time to get it exactly right, especially in a fast moving field with frequent new developments.

Future of H2 in yachting – round table of engine manufacturers

Francois Michelet, Business Line Manger of FEV Group gave a brief introduction to this topic, then was joined by Nicola Pomi, Director Yacht & Superyacht Global for Volvo Penta, Daniel Chaterjee, Director Sustainability, Technology Management & Regulatory Affairs at Rolls-Royce MTU and Paolo Bertetti, Vice President R&D at San Lorenzo. The discussion revolved around the technical challenges of technical and infrastructure/supply issues, and the availability of “green” fuels such as bio-methanol.


Circular Labyrinth with H2 symbol for hydrogen in the middle

Mr. Bertetti used the analogy of a labyrinth to illustrate that basically everyone involved in bringing the H2 technologies to reality is looking at many different paths to pursue and not knowing exactly where each will lead. He struck a chord with many in the audience when he said “We won’t know how long it takes to get out of the labyrinth until we get out of the labyrinth.”

He also said the company will be unveiling a 50m yacht at the September 2024 Monaco Yacht Show which uses on-board steam reforming to produce hydrogen.

Integrating H2 solutions – from conception to reality

In this session, Naval Architect Espen Oeino outlined a new 43 metre Norwegian ferry which will use hydrogen produced by hydro-electric power. Victor Laravoire, Project Manager at LMG Marin, showcased some recent vessels the company has worked on and reiterated how each requires a bespoke solution.

Chloé Zaied is the Managing Director at Ephyra, who designed and built the HyNova 40 hydrogen-powered boat, the first to make use of the hydrogen refuelling services the Yacht Club de Monaco and MEBC introduced at the 2021 event. Now that the boat is operating on a daily basis in the ‘outside world’, Ms. Zaied noted they are running into the infrastructure and hydrogen sourcing challenges others mentioned throughout the day.

Students wrapped it up

The Monaco Energy Boat Challenge started as a student competition and still has students at the core of its misson and activities. Fittingly, the final presentations of the day were by two universities participating in the MEBC.

Swiss hydrogen hydrofoiling boat at Monaco Conference

Matthieu Verville of the Exocet team from Montreal Polytechnic in Canada explained how he and his fellow students focused their research on improving the steam-reforming transformation of methanol into hydrogen. He detailed how they achieved a 94% reduction of CO2 emissions during the process, an 82% drop in energy consumption and a  cost of only €2 ($2.20) per kilo.

Simon Dorther then explained how the Swiss Solar Boat (EPF Lausanne) tackled development of a flying hydrogen boat, planned for 2025, which is not dissimilar to the one presented by Bluegame at the conference the day before.

For two days the Monaco conference and round table brought together some of the brightest minds and most exciting ideas in the future of water transport – from students conducting experiments and building prototype boats to foiling chaseboats at the America’s Cup to superyacht designs to fuel cell manufacturers to government officials and infrastructure organizations.

All of these players are intent on changing the world for the better, and seeing them talking during breaks, exchanging ideas, opinions and email addresses, provided lots of optimism for what is to come in the next few years.

Hats off to the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge, the Yacht Club de Monaco, Monaco itself and all of the sponsors and participants for a tremendous gathering that is sure to grow next year and reap rewards for all of us as the future unfolds.

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