Back in 2017, a former racing catamaran was turned into a floating laboratory and embarked on a six year mission to visit 50 countries and 101 ports. Powered by a mix of renewable energies, the striking vessel is now the first recipient of Toyota’s new fuel cell system for maritime applications.
Toyota has been a supporter of this global zero-emissions experiment from the start. The electrically-propelled Energy Observer uses a mix of wind, solar and hydrogen produced from seawater. It set out from Saint-Malo Port in France in June 2017 and is now roughly half way through its planned mission, clocking up around 18,000 nautical miles in the process.
The boat is 31 meters (101.7 ft) long, 13 m (42.6 ft) wide and weighs in at 34 tons. When under electric propulsion, it has an average speed of around 4-5 knots, but this can increase to 8 knots under wind power. A crew of eight mans the vessel, and it has so far visited 25 countries and stopped off at 48 ports.
Developed by Toyota’s Technical Center Europe, the fuel cell technology installed in the vessel makes use of components first introduced in the company’s Mirai, and more recently used in buses and trucks.
It took the R&D team less than seven months to redesign and build the compact module, which was successfully tested in the Energy Observer at a shipyard toward the end of 2019. It’s currently undergoing final full power testing at sea before the boat begins its 2020 tour, which includes making its way across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, on February 17.
“We are pleased to be able to further demonstrate the versatility of the Toyota Fuel Cell System,” said President and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe, Dr. Johan van Zyl. “Our European R&D team has worked hard with the team of the Energy Observer to create and install this module in the existing boat. This project shows that the Toyota Fuel Cell technology can be used in any environment and can be spread throughout many business opportunities.”
Toyota says that the Energy Observer team will be able to look forward to more power, efficiency and reliability from the maritime-specific fuel cell system.