The Green Corridor – My Visit to Energy Observer – A Tour into the Future of Ocean Travel

The Green Corridor – My Visit to Energy Observer – A Tour into the Future of Ocean Travel

by Tim Foote, Founder of Susymbio

Last month, I had the privilege to visit the Energy Observer, which was making a stop right here in Singapore during her around-the-world voyage! For those not familiar with the Energy Observer, she is a one-of-a-kind research vessel dedicated to the science of how to traverse the seven seas carbon free! I don’t mean in a net-zero way (which would rely on some mitigation project to balance the carbon emissions), but truly sailing with NO emissions!

This is the mission of the Energy Observer. It wants to show how ocean vessels can use renewable power to circle the world reliably. Doesn’t a sailboat do that? Of course, but when the wind doesn’t blow, you don’t want to be stalled in the middle of the ocean.

The Energy Observer therefore relies on sun and wind power. Energy is stored in lithium batteries, as well as in hydrogen gas tanks. That hydrogen is generated by seawater thanks to an onboard electrolysis and compressor system (which is powered by solar energy). The energy stored then powers the electric motors to move the vessel. By combining all these energy generation technologies together and monitoring the systems with more than 1,000 sensors, the vessel, refurbished from a racing catamaran, is always able to move. And it is doing this better and better every year!

My host, onboard scientist Beatrice Cordiano, showed me how the computerized nerve center works. Here sits an energy management system complete with not only details about power generation, but also details about the desalinization system that produces drinking water for the five to six crew members’ consumption.

The Energy Observer project started in France in 2017 with support from French industries. Over the years, because of the mission’s importance to our planet and the unique “oceanic lab” that it is, the Energy Observer has steadily grown its number of partners. Today, partners from the logistics industry alone include Toyota, CMA-CGM, and Air Liquide. The onboard REX H2 hydrogen power solution is designed based on Toyota’s fuel cell system.

Partner companies are using Energy Observer as a real-life test vessel. You want to know how your solar cells would work while being hammered by salt water? You can find out on the ship, which are outfitted with three types of solar panels at present. The technology around the electrolysis system and hydrogen generation is state-of-the-art as well.

The distance so far travelled by Energy Observer has surpassed over 50,000 nautical miles. That said, there have been and continue to be improvements due to innovations. The original gyro style wind energy installations were replaced with a wing type sail in 2019. Propellers were also changed to a “feathered” design in order to reduce drag.

The team behind Energy Observer wants to gain better information for commercial cargo vessels by vastly increasing the size of the ship. Energy Observer 2 therefore is on the drawing board and will be focused on liquid hydrogen systems. This vessel can’t get in the ocean quick enough. I encourage the maritime logistics people to look for any innovations that can be put in place to drive down emissions. At the same time I hope in the next couple years, I’ll have the chance to see another ship right here in Singapore kitted out with game-changing emissions busting technology!

Timothy Foote

Founder of SUSYMBIO
Tim Foote runs Susymbio, a boutique consulting firm advising clients on e-commerce logistics solutions and provides sustainability program management services. Tim worked in management positions at multiple MNCs for more than 25 years, gaining a wide knowledge and expertise in logistics operations, Tim has crafted delivery solutions for many e-commerce clients and managed the supply chains for several chemical and freight forwarding companies.

At DHL eCommerce’s first Asia Pacific Head of Go Green, he put in place various programs, including carbon footprint management, sustainability training, illegal wildlife smuggling monitoring training, and employee engagement.

Tim volunteers his free-time with the Singapore Wildcat Action Group, a not-for-profit organization that raises awareness and funds for wildlife conservation.

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