Towards Greener Boating - Sustainability Panel Review

Peter Franklin
Monday, 22 February 2021

How much Greener has the recreational marine industry become during the last year, and what sustainable technology developments are in the pipeline for the future? Continuing with a well established theme at METSTRADE in recent years, we put those questions to our panel of experts. 

The panel was moderated as in previous shows, by Patrick Hemp the technical manager for ICOMIA, and the speakers were as follows: Dr Vienna Eleuteri, Founder and Director of the Water Revolution Foundation, Andrea Frabetti, CEO Of Sunseeker Yachts, Ken Wittamore, an independent advisor on marine energy systems, Igor Kluin CEO and founder of Vaan Yachts, and Laurent Perignon who is working with the ‘Energy Observer’ Hydrogen development project. 

Patrick introduced the session by commenting on what a challenging year it had been, and mentioning concerns that sustainability developments could possibly have been sacrificed for more pressing matters. However, he added that a very positive sign was the identifiable increase in the appeal of boating as a healthy outdoor pursuit, and a much needed form of relaxation for so many people during the Pandemic. 

Superyachts can set the standards

His first question to Vienna Eleuteri, was about how she had seen progress in the last year, particularly in the Superyacht construction sector, and how she saw her activities at Water Revolution Foundation merging with environmental sustainability legislation.  

“The challenge of improving ‘ecological intelligence’ has already been with us for many years now,” said Vienna.  What exactly is ecological intelligence?  One good definition for ecological intelligence is as follows: A collective ability to understand the human impact on ecosystems, and to act in ways that improve them.

More awareness

Vienna pointed out, that since 5 years ago, the focus on that challenge has been more in the public awareness since the launch of the UN Sustainable Development Goals program, with its 17 clearly defined targets for achievement by 2030.  She also emphasised the importance of the yachting industry making sure to establish its own sustainability achievement framework, rather than waiting for legislation. 

Water Revolution Foundation project

Since 2010, some 5 years before the UN Sustainability program was introduced, Vienna has been working on her own ‘Water Revolution Model’ which aims to turn the eco-environmental challenges as related to the leisure marine world, into opportunities. She has enthusiastically carried this work into the Water Revolution Foundation project, which is setting sustainability standards, goals and measurements for the construction and operation of superyachts. 

Hydrogen fuelled propulsion becoming a reality

Next up, Patrick asked Laurent Perignon to comment on his organisation’s progress with using hydrogen as a zero emission fuel for propulsion in leisure craft, a subject that raised some interest in last year’s panel discussion. 

First ever electro-hydrogen powered boat

Laurent confirmed that the HYNOVA 40, a 12 metre open boat described as a ‘hydrogen/electric tender or day boat’, was presented in Monaco last September, and is destined to be the first ever production series electro-hydrogen powered boat, built specifically for leisure purposes. “We brought this project to market in order to showcase how hydrogen can most successfully be combined with batteries” said Perignon. He argued that propulsion with 100% hydrogen fuel is not possible or practical as yet, particularly on larger yachts.

One of the biggest challenges with pure hydrogen is the volume, and therefore the space required. Currently it must be stored under pressure at no more than 350 bar, for safety reasons. This means a lot of living space has to be sacrificed, which would be unacceptable on a medium sized leisure yacht.

Laurent went on to say, that based on practical experience using hydrogen onboard the Energy Observer vessel during her worldwide voyages, they were advocating a smart combination of renewable energies such as solar and batteries, working in combination with hydrogen in the most efficient way.  

Much to learn and replicate from the automotive industry

Staying on the subject of energy and propulsion, Patrick invited Ken Wittamore to give an update from his long experience as a marine energy specialist, bearing in mind the environmental legislative demands that engine manufacturers, and the industry in general are going to be facing in the coming years. 

Ken said, that a lot of exciting developments have happened in the 12 months since the last METSTRADE.  “Demands are high, boats are bigger, owners expectations are greater, and the need for more power (propulsion and hotel load) is only going to increase in future” he emphasised.

Boaters no longer wish to compromise on their quality of life onboard, which means more power is required in a similar way to the demands on the automotive industry. In the last year, Ken said he has seen many more opportunities to adopt technology from the leading edge car manufacturers such as Tesla, and to use it for producing high power density systems for yachts.  

'Energy harvesting'

“Yachts are being fitted with ever larger solar arrays and wind generators, thus making the multi faceted approach of ‘energy harvesting’  a much more realistic proposition.” In saying this, Ken basically agreed with Laurent, that combining various renewable energy sources in the most efficient way, is the favoured solution to this increasing demand for power onboard. 

By employing an automotive motor generator, fitted in a space between the engine and gearbox, it is possible to harvest the excess energy, or ‘power overhead’ that is available on a typical marine diesel engine. This effectively utilises the gap between the optimum energy output and the propellor load. “The quality of technology from the auto industry which enables this kind of process to work on yachts is phenomenal,” said Ken. 

Onboard lifestyle demands can lead to sustainability benefits

Turning to the volume boatbuilder’s point of view, Patrick asked Andrea Frabetti of Sunseeker if he is seeing more demand from owners asking about specific technologies related to sustainability.

Andrea replied that in all honesty, from 150 boats that Sunseeker builds every year, he estimates the only about 5% of clients have sustainability demands on their wish list.  For instance, he mentioned that end-of-life considerations don’t come into play in the mind of an owner who typically will keep a boat for 2, 3, or maybe 5 years from new.  

He stated that what buyers of new boats are really interested in, are the onboard lifestyle benefits. For instance, being able to lay at anchor for 8 hours without generators running, and swimming in clean quiet waters without noise and fumes around the boat.  “This is where solar, batteries and eventually hydrogen will meet their demands,’ said Andrea. And of course along the way it will also be more sustainable in terms of emissions etc.   

Sunseeker are now offering their Ocean 50 (50 metres) and Ocean 42 models with full hybrid packages, including propulsion and power generation using lithium batteries. Andrea admitted that eventually adding hydrogen to the package will be a significant benefit, which they are definitely ready to do, as soon as the technology is fully developed, and most importantly, that the refuelling infrastructure is in place around the harbours. 

With so many yachts leaving crowded harbours in the high season, Andrea suggested that motoring 10 miles offshore on full electric propulsion before starting the diesel engine, is a clear benefit of the hybrid concept. This greatly reduces noise, smoke and fumes to the advantage of local shoreside communities and the environment.   

Applying simple logic to sustainable material sourcing

Igor Kluin of Vaan Yachts is in the process of building two sailing catamarans constructed from recycled aluminium, and featuring a range of sustainably sourced fabrics in their interiors. Patrick asked him to give some perspective on the use of such materials, but before he did so, Igor wanted to comment on the discussions so far around the concept of electrification in both vehicles and boats. “More electrification is of course a good thing, it drives up demand, increases volumes and drives down prices of batteries,” he said. “But electrification in itself is not sustainable, and it very much depends on where the energy comes from to charge the batteries. For instance if it comes from a spinning propeller when a boat is under sail, then it is truly sustainable,” he argued.  

Truly sustainable materials

Coming back to the sustainable materials question, Igor said that in the 2 years since he started Vaan Yachts they have been trying to stay away from what he called the ‘hard core’ innovation, which can lead to expensive outcomes. “Instead we have tried to apply simple basic principles,’ he said.  Such as: Is a material recyclable? Is it bio based? And, if it is recyclable, can we obtain it from already recycled sources? Using these principles Vaan Yachts have found that there are indeed many materials available that are truly sustainable, fully certified, and ready to be applied to yacht construction today.  

For example a post consumer scrap aluminium developed by the Hydro company is used for their hull construction. This originates from old window frames, street signs and the like, and has already been used in a previous life for maybe 30 years according to Igor. The real benefit of this, is that it can be recycled with a commercial value, again in 30 years time, when the boat reaches the end-of-life.

Improve traceability of sustainable material

Igor went on to say, that supply chain traceability on sustainable material content has to be improved too, as boat builders often have to purchase proprietary pre-manufactured products (he mentioned a deck hatch as an example.) These items will often not have sufficient information on the source of their raw material content. 

Interestingly, this is exactly the kind certified supply chain data that the Water Revolution Foundation is currently indexing for the construction of superyachts. 

Watch this space for news of METSTRADE, and the show’s sustainability content, still plenty to discuss in a what has become a moving feast of information! 

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