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A high tech cruise on the Energy Observer

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The autonomous hydrogen-powered Energy Explorer moored at the futuristic Hafen City project in Hamburg.  A view of the future?

Over a week ago Greta Thunberg arrived in New York City in advance of the Climate Summit and the various climate strikes scheduled for the week of September 20. The media has been silent about her since then; I found a mention of a talk with Naomi Klein, but that’s it.  It’s absurd that the climate news should be all focused on a 16-year old; but if that’s what it takes to get the climate emergency on front page, then so be it.

Greta chose to sail to NYC, so as to avoid the emissions associated with flying.  Below is an image that describes the boat that she sailed on: the Malizia II, a beautiful high-tech zero-carbon racing yacht.

This reminded me of another ship that was moored in Hamburg last April: the Energy Observer, an experimental small ship, the first one to be fueled by hydrogen generated on board.  The ship was first tested travelling through the Mediterranean before embarking on her more challenging leg in the high north.  The ship has already successfully sailed to Spitzbergen, one of her 101 scheduled stops on her 50 country, 6-year journey.

Spitzbergen? The crew of six is testing the ship’s system in cold waters and northern seas, because it is solar energy that ultimately generates the electricity that generates the hydrogen that powers her engines.  The ship has been fitted with wingsails to improve its performance and efficiency, but the main power are the two 41 kW electric engines.  The electricity is fed either directly from the solar panels, from a lithium battery pack, or from the hydrogen fuel cell.  The hydrogen is produced by electrolysis from sea water; a tank can store up to 62 kg of compressed hydrogen, which holds roughly three times as much energy per unit weight as a battery pack.  Much of that hydrogen is generated while the vessel is in port.  There is also a heat recovery system – important for sailing in arctic waters.

The Energy Observer last year as she crossed the Corinth Canal in Greece

Ultimately, the objective of the journey is to test and improve the hybrid technology used, and demonstrate that it could be used on larger vessels (a proof of concept, as it were).  Details can be found in the press kit here, an update on the wingsails here, or this video below, as well as the home site of the expedition here.


In Hamburg I was told that the Energy Observer was going to be in Vancouver as part of its Pacific leg.  I hope so; the official website mentions only California.  As for Greta Thunberg, she will come to Canada, joining the protest on September 27th.

Written by enviropaul

September 8, 2019 at 5:17 pm

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