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Boating: environmental superyachts

30 March 2021
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29 March 2021
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31 March 2021

Deep green solutions

The idea of an environmentally sustainable superyacht may sound far-fetched, but technological advances are bringing its appearance nearer by the month

T here’s not much that’s environmentally friendly about a luxury superyacht, as Oceanco’s CEO Marcel Onkenhout admits. ‘Any reputable shipyard will tell you that the notion of a truly green megayacht is a contradiction in terms and will remain so into the foreseeable future until technologies are developed further.

Fair enough. He adds, however: ‘That does not mean a superyacht’s impact on the environment cannot be significantly reduced. We are committed to doing just that, through improving the efficiency of onboard systems to reduce the carbon footprints of our owners’ yachts.’

There are two fundamental ways of reducing environmental impact: cut down fuel consumption and reduce the emissions levels of harmful gases. Solutions to these challenges range from mundane to extreme.

Skysails, for example, produces giant kites that can be flown in front of the boat on long downwind passages to harness the power of the wind and work in assistance to the ship’s engine. If this sounds like pie in the sky, some commercial ships are already using the Skysails system and some superyacht designers are now including the kite in design proposals for new yachts.

Onkenhout also sees an interesting future for solar energy. ‘It is a subject often brought up by our clients, and the technology is progressing rapidly. For example, more attractive and efficient photovoltaic cells are now available that can be embedded in the deck underfoot.’

Solar energy is the sole source of power on the 30m yacht, PlanetSolar, which is currently circumnavigating the globe purely on solar power. Then again, the ship does resemble a giant solar panel and will not win any Prix d’Elegance any time soon.

For a superyacht, solar power is not going to provide all the answers by itself, although superyacht builder Arcadia has fitted krypton-filled double glazing on the superstructure of one of its new superyachts. With solar cells built into the glass, this system is capable of producing around 4 kilowatts of electrical power in sunny conditions: not much compared to the total power demands of a superyacht, but it’s a start – and it’s a neat way of harnessing additional sources of energy without upsetting the aesthetics of the yacht.

‘Owners are delighted with reduced fuel bills, but for some it’s the ability to dine on the upper deck without the unpleasant smell of diesel exhaust that has been the real clincher.’

Hybrid systems are a buzz concept of the moment, with builders finding growing interest from clients in moving away from the traditional diesel engine to greener alternatives. Using an electric motor in combination with a generator, this system can generate electric power while the diesel engine is running. The power can then be fed into a large battery storage pack and used for propelling the boat along emissions free.

Sounds good, particularly when you’re coming into a harbour and you don’t want to upset the neighbours. No need for belching out fumes just as you’re about to say hello to the locals.

But is the hybrid system really any greener than a traditional diesel engine? Some point out that all the processes of conversion lose significant energy along the way and that, overall, the emissions from a hybrid system may be greater than from a simple diesel engine.

Perhaps alternative fuels in a conventional engine might be a simpler solution. LPG, LNG and biodiesel are all good possibilities for the future, although someone is going to need to put in a good network of refuelling stations if alternatives are really to become viable.

Ecosuperyacht offers a solution that is being put to work right now on existing vessels. Ecosuperyacht promotes a fuel additive, GO2, a nano-particle based combustion catalyst that reduces fuel consumption by 8% to 13% while dramatically reducing harmful emissions and soot.

GO2 cerium oxide nano-particles act as an oxygen courier, by contributing and redistributing oxygen in the engine chamber during combustion, GO2 also accelerates the rate of combustion due to the nano-particles catalytic properties. In doing this, a faster, more powerful, and more complete burn occurs which requires less fuel for the same output by the engine.

LPG, LNG and biodiesel are all good possibilities for the future, although someone is going to need to put in a good network of refuelling stations if alternatives are really to become viable.

GO2 distributor for Europe, Ecosuperyacht’s Richard Franklin, says: ‘This means you get an incredibly high percentage of the energy in the fuel turned into useful power output rather than being wasted as unburned fuel and soot. You also get a dramatic reduction in harmful emissions such as CO, CO2 and NOx, as well as significantly reducing the awful smell of diesel fuel that you sometimes get back aft. We’re finding that owners are delighted with lower fuel bills, but for some of them its the ability to dine on the upper deck without the unpleasant smell of diesel exhaust that has been the real clincher.’

The same additive is already in use in the USA by railroads, mining companies and commercial shippers. Recent in depth sea trials using GO2 have been carried out on two well-known superyachts using state of the art monitoring equipment in a carefully controlled testing regime.

Says Franklin: ‘There are two motoryachts which have recently completed sea trials, a 2003 vintage 62m yacht, Apogee, and Big Fish, which is a 45m yacht built last year. Those trials are now complete and the results are due very soon. The results are very encouraging indeed.’

If the trial results prove as successful as expected, then owners of existing superyachts can hope instantly to improve performance, knowing that they’re making significant fuel savings and that their engines are spewing out fewer emissions.

The same applies even if a yacht seldom actually heads out to sea, as Franklin points out. ‘There was a well known large yacht here in Mallorca that rarely went anywhere. She used $1.5m of fuel a year because her power demand outstripped the ability to supply her using shore power connections, so she was reliant on running her generators all the time.’

On that subject, energy storage for ‘silent night operations’ is another area of Oceanco’s research. This refers to reducing the carbon footprint of diesel engines by recovering the waste energy they produce, store and release it for the less consuming night-time needs.

Victor Caminada, marketing manager of Dutch superyacht builder Amels, points out that air conditioning accounts for up to 50% of the fuel demands in the life of an average superyacht, which may only be at sea for a few weeks a year.

Sails won't get you from A to B in a reliable fashion, such are the vagaries of wind, but when it’s blowing, why not harness it? Not just in terms of driving the boat, but also for powering ancillary systems. That’s the premise of Paracas, a Florida-based yacht design agency focused on providing innovative solutions to the problem of marine power.

Paracas engineer William Ray has long been interested in the idea of converting wind power into hydro-electric power, and his dream is coming to fruition with the construction of a 120-foot catamaran this autumn. The catamaran has a conventional sail plan for sailing when the wind is blowing favourably, and two Siemens engines powered by a bank of Lithium ion batteries capable of storing a megawatt of power. ‘This means she can run for six to eight hours strictly on battery power without embellishing her power in any way,’ says Ray.

But the really clever bit comes in the yacht’s ability to recharge batteries while under sail. ‘The Paracas 120 will weigh over a hundred tons, so she develops a huge amount of momentum when underway. We use this momentum to power hydro-electric turbines that automatically open and suck water in when they sense that there’s sufficient momentum to do so without unduly affecting the yacht’s forward motion.

‘As far as the EU is concerned it’s unacceptable that marine is allowed to see emissions grow.’

‘We do this with state-of-the-art micro hydro electric turbines that are coupled with Siemens generators, to generate as much as 360 kilowatts while the boat is under sail. This power is then absorbed by the Lithium ion battery packs. In just four to five hours of sailing, you’re going to be able to store enough power to run this megayacht in a stationary ‘hotel’ mode for up to 10 days.’

Paracas is taking advantage of battery technology already well proven in shore-based applications such as electric-powered city buses. Not surprisingly, greener solutions are far more advanced in other industries but as we have seen, the superyacht industry is catching up fast. Which is just as well, says Richard Franklin, who warns that if the marine industry doesn’t take the initiative, the regulators will do it instead.

‘Life is getting tougher already, with a further dramatic tightening of NOx emissions standards already underway. NOx is a by product of the combustion process, as is CO2, which is also beginning to become a focus of regulatory attention,’ he says.

‘The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has made a big fanfare of its ship design initiative (the Energy Efficiency Design Index, or EEDI), but the European Union (EU) is not satisfied with progress and is probably gunning for carbon emissions permits.

‘Our view at Ecosuperyacht is to encourage owners to go green and enjoy the savings, while they will be better positioned for the regulatory crackdown when it comes.

‘The EU is already making strong moves in aviation and believes it has the mandate to do the same in marine. They see marine as a big issue – not maybe because of the carbon emissions now – but because by 2050 marine emissions could be two to three times what they are today unless checked. As far as they are concerned it’s unacceptable that marine is allowed to see its emissions grow while the rest of the markets are forced to make efficiency gains. Superyachts will inevitably find themselves subject to the effects of regulatory tightening in this area.’

Oceanco is one company anticipating a stricter regulatory future. ‘Exhaust emissions will become tighter,’ says Onkenhout, ‘but Oceanco is focusing further and beyond these regulations. We are investigating the possibility of using after-exhaust treatment systems, such as SCR (Selective Catalytic Reductor) systems or the use of alternative low emission fuels such as LNG.

‘In an effort to keep ahead of both legislation and to carve new territory, Oceanco’s R&D team is making advances in all standard procedures. For instance, research is ongoing into LED lighting that emits less heat (thus reducing A/C demand), uses less power and lasts longer.’

It is a brave new world indeed, but one of the greatest fuel and emissions savings can be achieved simply by living life at sea at a slightly different pace. Richard Franklin says that superyacht owners can make a massive difference simply by planning ahead.

‘If an owner only tells his captain at 4pm that he has a cocktail party to attend 30 nautical miles away at 6pm – say from Cannes to Monaco – of course the captain will do everything in his power to get the owner there on time, by steaming at full speed. That obviously has a big impact on fuel consumption. Simply by thinking ahead a little more and allowing the yacht to cruise at a slower speed, the fuel consumption will be significantly less.’

After all, isn’t that why people go to sea? To escape lives lived in the fast lane? Living life a little slower means we’re also living a life a little greener.

Words: DH

This article was originally published in Halcyon magazine in 2011

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