New solar – hydrogen yacht runs on sunshine and water

The Aquon One is a luxury solar – hydrogen yacht completely powered by rooftop panels that generate electricity to run its twin 100kW motors and also create hydrogen for fuel cells from the water the boat sails through.

The system is similar to that of the zero emission Energy Observer research vessel which is sailing around the world on solar, wind and hydrogen power and is currently in French Guiana on its way from France to Japan.  The difference being that the Aquon is not a research ship, but the world’s first leisure catamaran powered by green (no fossil fuels involved) hydrogen.

solar - hydrogen yacht in artists conception - tree quarter viewThe company behind the yacht is Swiss Sustainable Yachts (SSY), formed in 2018 by Dr. Adrian Beer, a passionate yachtsman and serial entrepreneur who also founded and is CEO of the GrupoBeer corporation which advises and assists companies recovering from natural disasters.

His experience and leadership in that area helped him gather a network of global experts in a wide variety of technologies, who he put together as a ‘superteam’ of advisors to design and create this revolutionary boat. It includes specialists not only in yacht and interior design but also thermo and fluid dynamics, photovoltaics, hydrogen, fibre composites, smart home technology and  an ‘energy architect’ that helped coordinate the various disciplines.

Solar – hydrogen yacht truly zero emission

The mission of the team is ‘to pioneer sustainable yachting and true independence’ and the goal for the Aquon One was to create a yacht that succeeds in both aspects – from energy generation to construction materials, even to the recycling of waste water.

solar - hydrogen yacht schematic of how total system works

The 68 foot (19.5m) catamaran has a displacement of 30 metric tons and is powered by 2 x 100 kilowatt electric motors, one on each catamaran pontoon. Everything, including the living quarters, is ultimately powered by the 64 square meters (690 sq.ft) of solar panels on the roof. The electricity can be put to  immediate use, stored in a battery in the short term or in tanks of compressed hydrogen for the long term.

Starting at the top of the circle in this illustration, here is a quick outline of how it all works. (The video at the bottom of this article shows the energy flow in more detail and gives examples of typical use cases).

The rooftop monocrystalline photovoltaic panels convert sunlight to electricity, with an output of more than 75 kWh/day in summertime.

⬇︎ Down the Left side of the illustration:

Some of this electricity can be used in electrolysis to separate desalinated sea water into oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H2) gas. The H2 is compressed to 300 bar (4,500 psi) and…

…stored in onboard tanks.

Hydrogen fuel cells ‘recombine’ the hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen to create electricity to drive the engines, with water (H2O) as the only emission.  There is also some heat generated, which is captured and used to cover onboard hot water supply and heating.

Down the Right side of the illustration ⬇︎:

The electricity from the solar panels is also used to charge lithium-Ion batteries that provide short-term electricity storage for propulsion and on-board use.

The electric engines (one per hull) can be powered by the short term battery or by the long term storage on the hydrogen (left) side of this diagram.

This solar – hydrogen combination means the Aquon can be truly independent from other energy sources. Full speed is 16 knots, and with sufficient sunlight and a cruising speed of 8 knots the range is limitless.

Why hydrogen and a battery instead of just a battery?  The main advantage of hydrogen is that it has a much higher energy density – it packs more energy per unit of weight, and less weight is always good on a boat. Also, hydrogen can store energy over longer periods of time, even across seasons. 

Sustainability of materials

Another consideration of the SSY team was the application of a holistic and circular philosophy to all elements of construction and materials. Organic materials have been used wherever possible and others have been evaluated for their renewability and recyclability with a database that tracks where everything is sourced and best practices for minimal end-of-life impact.

Dining and dining area of solar - hydrogen yacht with bamboo, cork and recycled leatherBamboo certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is used for wall panelling, and has a distinct colour achieved through steaming rather than chemical staining. A Life Cycle Assessment study by the Technical University of Delft shows this bamboo is CO2 negative despite the long transport distance from Asia, and significantly better than tropical hardwood when entire life cycle is considered.

The main floor is covered by genuine leather recycled from the waste trimmings of shoe manufacturers, while natural Portuguese cork is used in wet areas like the kitchen and bathroom. The cork comes from the bark of cork trees that are peeled instead of cut down, which means the bark can regenerate within 9 years – absorbing CO2 all of that time.

A luxury smart home at sea

The Aquon is made for luxury living and has been described by its designers as “a loft at sea’ and ‘a smart home at sea’. Internet of Things (IoT) and digital systems expert Armin Leonhardt of aleon  was an integral part of the creative team that included Christian Grande of CGDW and Martin Hesselmann on the design and interior architecture front along with Tià Simó of BYD Group naval architects.

The main deck features large dining and living rooms, a fully-equipped kitchen, and two outdoor terraces. The catamaran pontoons house bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and up to four guest cabins. The flybridge is a private roof terrace with bar, grill, outdoor cooking station and dining area for twelve.

solar - hydrogen yacht has this onboard smartphone appThere is a total living space of 250m2 (2,700 sq ft) with smart fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, and other appliances all connected through hi-speed internet and the Aquon app. The app also controls automated window shading, the colour and intensity of dimmable lighting in the ceilings and staircases, and monitors all of the yacht’s operating and live aboard systems.

All in all it is a remarkable feat of engineering and design, and the project and research was assisted along the way by a variety of partners including Swiss Cleantech, the Swiss Hydrogen Association (Hydropole), Gstaad Yacht Club, Swiss OST University of Applied Sciences, ZSW Center for solar energy and hydrogen research Baden-Württemberg, maritime safety certification service DNV-GL, and CSEM, a private Swiss non-profit research and technology organization.

Click here to visit the Aquon site for full specifications and details


2 thoughts on “New solar – hydrogen yacht runs on sunshine and water

  • January 28, 2021 at 8:20 am

    This is a pretty misleading information. As if conversion of electricity from solar into hydrogen and back would be meaningful. The energy losses for doing this are so substantial that this does not make a lot of sense, even though a solar powered yacht in general can be a good thing – depending on the use profile.

    • January 28, 2021 at 10:14 am

      Thanks for writing, Sebastian. This is an overview of the Aquon One and all of the information in this article is available on the Aquon website. You may be able to find out more specifics there of how the system works and its applicability for marine use.


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