Zero carbon ship resumes global research mission

The Energy Observer left Saint-Malo France in the early hours of this morning to resume her global mission of being the first zero carbon ship to circle the globe.

The Energy Observer is a trimaran ocean and environmental research vessel with the goal of circumnavigating the globe with zero carbon emissions, powered entirely by hydrogen extracted from the seawater it travels through.

The entire project, the Energy Observer Odyssey, is scheduled to take six years, visiting 50 countries and 101 ports of call. She has completed the first two legs of the global journey, a ‘get your feet wet’ tour de France in 2017 and a trip around the Mediterranean in the fall of 2018 with layovers in 22 ports.

That’s a voyage so far of 33 stopovers in 14 countries for a total of 10,326 nautical miles with NO emissions of greenhouse gases or fine particles.

Today she has set out from her home port of Saint Malo, France, for the third leg, Northern Europe. The first stopover will be in Antwerp, Belgium from the 21st to the 29th of March.

From there the ship and her crew will travel to the Netherlands, the UK, up and around the Baltic Sea countries and then along the North Sea coast of Norway and Finland above the Arctic Circle and past Hammerfest, the northernmost community on earth.

Plugboats will be following Energy Observer on her journey and helping to fill out the full extent of her exploits and accomplishments, but here is a quick introduction:

The goal of the Odyssey is to raise awareness among the general public on the major themes of ecological transition, including renewable energies, biodiversity, mobility and the circular economy, starting from meeting the pioneers of tomorrow’s world.

The major effort is to locate sustainable solutions, to participate in their deployment and prove to the general public, local communities, and businesses that energy transition is possible.

The two leaders of the expedition are Victorien Erussard, a wildly accomplished offshore racer, and filmmaker Jérome Delafosse who has 23 years of experience exploring the deep seas of the planet, including 800 shark dives.

Together they lead a crew of sailors and scientists who spend their time in each port contributing to conferences and other research projects focussed on the health of our global marine world.

In Venice, for instance, the Energy Observers co-hosted round table discussions on the importance of electric mobility in the city and last Friday (March 15) joined the Fridays For Future assembly in Brussels before setting out on this latest excursion.

The ship itself started life as the Formule Tag, a much maligned but ultimately successful effort to build a huge trimaran to compete in the first Quebec to Saint-Malo race in 1983. It transformed into the ENZA New Zealand and captured the 1994 Jules Verne Trophy by circling the globe in 74 days 22 hours 17 minutes and 22 seconds. In later incarnations it was Daedalus, the Doha and The Spirit of Antigua.

With its wide platform spread over three hulls and proven oceanworthiness, it was seen as ideal for accommodating the Energy Observer’s solar panels and sizeable laboratory equipment.

New ‘Oceanwings’ are being introduced for the Northern European leg

a large trimaran with tall towers on each pontoon that are like square sails

During its time in port after the Mediterranean leg, the Observer underwent many a test and refinement. The largest change in the ship for the new leg is in the aspect of wind propulsion.

Wind is still difficult to exploit for large scale maritime transport. During its first navigation seasons, Energy Observer experimented with two vertical-axis wind turbines for production, and a traction wing to reduce energy consumption. You can see the wind turbines in the main photograph at the top of this post.

In 2019, it is testing a completely new system, Oceanwings, which are basically sails that made of a rigid material but can still be unfurled. The Observer’s are the largest ever tested, with a surface of 31.5 m² (300 square feet).

The Energy Observer website has details on the ship’s engineering

a diagram of the zero carbon ship Energy Observer with callouts of different technical features
Click on the image to go to an interactive diagram on the EO site.

One last thing, an overview of the Energy Observer’s own Energy Management System (EMS).

In normal navigation, solar or wind electricity directly power propulsion.
Lithium-ion  batteries  take  over  if  there  is  short term drop in solar capability, for example in cloudy weather.

For longer interruptions and at night the hydrogen fuel cell takes over.

The hydrogen itself is created through electrolysis (the electricity being supplied by the solar panels) after a reverse osmosis process has extracted salt from the sea water.

We will provide more information about the Energy Observer systems as we follow her on this extraordinary ‘Europe on zero carbon a day’ mission.

You can also follow Energy Observer on facebooktwitter  or on the Energy Observer site for up to the minute information on her location and progress.

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