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Energy Observer, the first Hydrogen-Powered Vessel Fitted with Oceanwings® Wingsails

By December 15, 2018 5   min read  (782 words)

December 15, 2018 |

Energy Observer with Masts
  • After 10,326 nautical miles, Energy Observer returned to Saint-Malo, its home port. It will now undergo important changes to be ready for its next challenge: Northern Europe. 

While it is an inexhaustible resource at sea, the wind is still difficult to exploit for large-scale shipping. Energy Observer, as an experimental vessel, has a mission to test all available and promising solutions. During the first sailing campaigns, Energy Observer tested 2 vertical axis wind turbines for production, and a traction wing for the reduction of energy costs.

In 2019, the ship will test a brand new system combining the advantages of one and the other: a wind thruster. The Oceanwings® wings will reduce the ship’s energy consumption, accelerate its speed and, above all, produce energy and hydrogen while sailing.

Energy Observer with Masts2

12 meters wingspan

Or the largest Oceanwings® tested to date. They are the result of a concept patented by VPLP design co-developed in partnership with CNIM where they are assembled. Energy Observer will thus allow an unprecedented feedback of experience for the maritime transport of the future. The wings, with an area of ​​31.5 m2 each, are self-supporting and rotatable 360 ​​°.

VPLP Design draws inspiration and experience from the rigid wings of the America’s Cup whose aerodynamic efficiency is far superior to traditional sails. A fundamental reason has nevertheless limited their development: their rigidity, precisely. Until now, they lacked the ability to reduce surface area, in other words, scoring and slumping, as on conventional rigging.

With Oceanwings®, VPLP Design aims to offer a simple solution to overcome this obstacle and democratize the use of rigid wings. ” We wanted to propose a safe, simple and automatable wind propulsion system ,” says Marc Van Peteghem. We have therefore developed a concept of rigorous and stable rigging, based on the aerodynamics of the multi-element profiles of the Cup.”

Thanks to the Ademe, a complete functional prototype of 8m of scale allowed to validate the feasibility of the wings, to make the systems more reliable and to complete the navigation surveys on the models of performance prediction (VPP) developed internally. It is also by sailing through this prototype with Marc Van Peteghem, during the Odyssey for the Future of Energy Observer, Victorian Erussard was conquered by technology.

A performance multiplier for Energy Observer’s energy mix 

Onboard Energy Observer, the Oceanwings® will not only be used as rigging, they will really increase the performance of the ship. Their installation on the two floats of the ship will indeed allow to:

  • Accelerate speed, in addition to electric motors
  • Reduce energy costs, when they come to relieve the electric motors
  • To increase the energy production during the navigations thanks to the tidal energy production (inversion of the electric motors in hydrogénérateurs)
  • Produce hydrogen during navigation by electrolysis of water

This is one of the main advances for Energy Observer. While up to now hydrogen production has been limited to stopovers, the installation of Oceanwings® paves the way for the production of hydrogen during navigation. Only 1h to 2h per day at first but integrating the hydrogenation by the conversion of electric motors, it is an essential energy supplement for Northern Europe where the conditions of sunshine will be less favorable.

Up to 42% less energy expenditure  for global shipping

The installation of Oceanwings® aboard Energy Observer is a first step in reducing the environmental impact of global shipping. According to simulations carried out on a very large panel of boats, the results are extremely promising: from 18 to 42% less energy expenditure. A significant figure when we know that 90% of world trade passes through the sea. Marine transport is also responsible for high air pollution by releasing into the atmosphere pollutants such as fine particles, oxides nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur (SOx).

A solution thought to be industrialized

The Oceanwings® approach is part of a logic of economic profitability and responsible design. While wind propulsion provides a two-digit reduction in fuel consumption, it can not require dedicated personnel; automation of rigging is therefore unavoidable. The industrialization, thought from the design stage, makes it possible to offer a price comparable to that of a rig performance, depreciable quickly for the professionals.

Other optimizations also planned  aboard Energy Observer

-Increase of the surface of solar panels

+ 27m2 of additional panels, increasing the total area from 141 to 168 m2 for a maximum power of 28 kWp. These panels will essentially be cells encapsulated in flexible conformable and non-slip panels, the same type of panel that can be placed on any ship deck.

-Optimization of thermal storage

Adjustment of the intermittently three heat sources into storable (fuel cell, electrolyzer and converter) to reach 20 kWh to heat the core nacelle and producing hot water. And so further reduce the overall consumption of the edge.

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