Foiling yacht makes clean hydrogen for the first time

DRIFT Energy has announced it has successfully produced clean hydrogen using its first purpose-built hydrofoil sailboat in sea trials

The world’s first foiling boat that can produce clean hydrogen gas has been unveiled by the British start-up firm, Drift Energy.

A propeller underneath the 18ft yacht drives a turbine which produces electricity to power an electrolyzer, which splits water into hydrogen and water.

The clean hydrogen is then stored in a Department of Transport-verified compressed tank. The only by-product is oxygen, which is vented.

A foiling yacht sailing in a harbour while producing clean hydrogen

Drift Energy claims this is the first time clean hydrogen has been made this way on a seagoing vessel. Credit: Drift Energy

The CEO of Drift Energy, Ben Medland, says although drag is usually minimised on foiling yachts to allow them to reach higher speeds, the drag of the turbine is needed to power it.

‘The engineering involved in America’s Cup racing has meant boats are able to go faster and faster. Rather than using that power to go as fast as possible around a race course, we’re sacrificing a couple of extra knots of speed, but that’s power that we can harness. So we’re using that phenomenon of apparent wind sailing to get to higher power outputs, but then using the drag to generate the energy on the boat, which can still reach speeds to foil,’ he explained.

During sea trails off Brightlingsea in Essex, the yacht reached speeds of up to 25 knots, filling a six litre tank with clean hydrogen within two hours.

A small catamaran being sailed in the harbour

The yacht was originally made by White Formula before it was converted to produce clean hydrogen. Credit: Drift Energy

Medland said the yacht represents a ‘new class of mobile renewable energy‘, with boats delivering ‘meaningful volumes of clean hydrogen into the hydrogen economy in any port, anywhere in the globe.’

Unlike wind farms, the boats are not static and can be routed anywhere to sail in optimum wind conditions.

Drift Energy has worked with the Artificial intelligence firm Faculty to create a routing algorithm, so yachts can continually be sailed on the most optimum course.

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This has resulted in greatly improved load factors, which is the am0unt of electricity produced by a renewable energy device benchmarked against its theoretical maximum output in a year.

‘We now have an algorithm that means that we can achieve load factors at 80% or greater in certain parts of the Atlantic. This means these vessels are way more efficient than a wind fam in the North Sea, which only produce electricity 41% of the time offshore, and 28% of the time inshore,’ explained Medland.

He said that while some voice concerns about the explosive nature of hydrogen, the reality is that the gas is currently being transported around the world safely.

A drawing of a black foiling yacht with a black sail

The yacht has main lifting hydrofoils and rudder hydrofoils, and is fitted with a turbine, gas storage tank and electrolyzer. Credit: Drift Energy

‘People hear the word hydrogen and they have certain images of what hydrogen has done in the past, like the Hindenburgh airship disaster. The reality is that hydrogen can be and has been stored or transported around the globe safely, for decades.  Hydrogen is delivered around the country to various different industries, including hospitals and research agencies, in Department of Transport-verified tanks. We will be using this same technology and using transport-grade containment systems,’ stated Medland.

Drift Energy is now planning to build a larger 50-70ft vessel, which will be launched in summer 2023.

This will either be similar to an IMOCA 60, or the firm could take the ‘low and slow approach’, building something akin to a container ship.

It will produce 1 megawatt power, enough to power around 2,000 homes for an hour.


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