New hydrofoiling hydrogen chase boat for America’s Cup

Emirates Team New Zealand, who introduced foiling to America’s Cup competition in 2012, is innovating again with an electric hydrofoiling chase boat powered by hydrogen fuel cells and batteries.

Made by McConaghy Boats, ‘Chase Zero’ made her debut April 7 in the same harbour where ETNZ unveiled the AC72 catamaran yacht ten years ago and changed the face of sail racing globally.

The 32.8-ft-long (10 m) foiling catamaran carries 6 crew members, with each hull storing the hydrogen fuel tanks, fuel cells, batteries and electric motors.

“This project is all about proving how we can influence the global marine industry by producing a hydrogen powered foiling catamaran.” said team CEO Grant Dalton. “It is our hope that we can make a seismic shift into hydrogen power and an emission free statement for the industry.”

Hydrogen-electric power trains in each hull

Chase Zero has been in development since last June and utilizes a membrane-free electrolysis technology that produces green hydrogen. Most hydrogen is created through a process that requires fossil fuels, whereas green hydrogen is made using none.

She is powered by two 80kW Toyota hydrogen fuel cells, one in each hull, which are each fed by two tanks of green hydrogen stored in gas form at a maximum pressure of 350bar. The hydrogen is passed through a catalyst which strips the electrons away from the H2 molecules.

These electrons are used to power the boat and then return to the positively charged H+ ions which are combined with oxygen from the air, leaving nothing but pure H2O to exit the exhaust of the fuel cell.

Check out our quick primer on the ‘colours of hydrogen’, below.

hydrofoiling hydrogen chase boat seen riding above the waves from behind

With the twin electric motors of 220kW (approx 300HP), the boat can almost literally fly at about 30knots (34.5 mph/55.5 kph) with the 160kW generated from the fuel cells.

“The fuel cells provide the majority of the energy” explains Electrical Engineer Michael Rasmussen, “but there are also two 42kWh batteries which act as a filter for fast changes in power demand, when the boat may have to quickly reach speeds of 50 kts.”

“The response time of the fuel cell is much slower than available from the battery and a compromise in performance was not an option, so the battery supplies the bump and we are able to draw up to around 420kW for shorter periods. The fuel cell will then re-charge the batteries once there is excess power available again.”

Range of 180 kilometres at varying speeds

The foiling is also an important part of the speed and range equation. “Travelling at 50 knots on the water requires a lot of power, and so foiling, like in sailing, was an obvious choice for us to reduce drag and therefore help to extend our range to around 180km on one fill of hydrogen.” said Design Coordinator Dan Bernasconi.

If this were a fossil fuel boat you can imagine what volumes of hydrocarbons would be burnt and emitted with 600 horsepower of ICE machinery. Emirates Team New Zealand COO Kevin Shoebridge says “This really is a considerable step forward in clean renewable energy in the marine industry.”

Other Cup competitors looking at hydrogen

There is some thought 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, Challenger of Record.

If it does move forward it would also apply to other classes and hydrogen chase boats across the board and would have a considerable impact on reducing fossil fuels in the total America’s Cup event.

“Looking at Chase Zero foiling along today, it looks like a futuristic power boat,” noted Shoebridge. “But then you actually need to remind yourself that there are zero carbon emissions, it is basically water vapour coming out of the exhaust which is amazing when considering the positive environmental impact that can be made by reducing emissions from regular boat engines.”

McConaghy Boats – Chase Zero

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The colours of hydrogen

various colours of hydrogen in a bar

While hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, here on earth it is almost always bonded with other elements – as in water, where two hydrogen atoms bond with one oxygen atom to form a molecule of H2O.

There are different ‘colours’ of hydrogen, with the colour referring to the way in which the hydrogen is produced, or extracted, and what it is extracted from.

Separating hydrogen from oxygen in water uses a process called electrolysis which – as the term suggests – requires electricity. When the electricity comes from a renewable source such as solar, water or wind power, the hydrogen is green hydrogen, also referred to as clean hydrogen.

When it comes from nuclear energy it is called pink hydrogen and when it comes from fossil fuel burning generators it is called yellow. There are no shades of yellow in the description, but obviously the dirtier the source of the electricity, the dirtier the hydrogen.

Most hydrogen in use right now does not come from water but is produced by extracting it from natural gas /methane. This is a much more complicated process involving high temperature steam and chemical catalysts and produces carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide along with the hydrogen.

If the carbon emissions and byproducts are captured and stored, usually underground, it is called blue hydrogen. If they are not stored it is called grey hydrogen. The advocates for blue hydrogen say it should be considered carbon neutral, but there is debate about how that terminology is misleading and whether it is just a marketing play. Turquoise hydrogen is at an experimental stage but is extracted using a thermal /methane  method which removes the carbon in a solid form instead of as CO2 gas.

There is no debate about black and brown hydrogen. They are not clean sources of hydrogen. Through a process called gasification, solid coal or other high carbon material is broken down into its chemical constituents, which includes methane gas – from which the hydrogen is subsequently extracted.

And then there is White hydrogen: naturally occurring.

Editor’s note: There is not universal agreement about the definition of each colour. The information here is distilled from: Enapter/H2View, H2 bulletin, National Grid, World Economic Forum, CNBC.

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