Being from Jersey, sailing is a natural escape for the more adventurous. My parents were both keen sailors which led me to discover the challenge and freedom of offshore sailing. After university I competed in my first big race, the Mini Transat, which is a solo race across the Atlantic undertaken in very small (and wet) boats of just 6.5m in length. I used just solar panels to successfully generate power onboard for the four weeks at sea.
You recently announced an ambitious four-year programme of ocean racing using hydrogen fuel cell technology. Which races will you compete in as part of this programme?
Over the past three years we have been competing successfully in the Class 40 championship which includes transatlantic races. The next step for us now is to move up to the premier class in ocean racing, the IMOCA 60 class, and to race around the world. Our major goal is to compete in The Ocean Race 2021/22 (formerly the Volvo Ocean Race), which visits every continent and includes stopovers in Europe, US, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and China. It is a marathon event and also an incredible opportunity to test and showcase the global importance of embracing hydrogen technology. The four-year championship builds up to sailing’s Everest in 2024, the Vendée Globe, which is a solo non-stop around-the-world challenge, starting and finishing in the port of Les Sables d’Olonne in France. This is the toughest sporting challenge on the planet today.
What can you tell us about the OceansLab hydrogen fuel cell system?
We have been developing a hydrogen fuel cell power module, a zero-emission system, that can replace the diesel engines we all have on our boats today.
This is a technology venture that has spun off from our racing project whose mission is to ‘pioneer clean technologies in the toughest ocean races’. Currently we are nearing completion of our prototype, which we then want to test offshore on our race boat, as well as on recreational and commercial craft.
The system has been designed to be modular in order to meet the demands of different industry sectors, such as ferries, river taxis and recreational marine, which require low-to-medium power output clean propulsion power. Additionally the system can be applied to meet auxiliary energy demands in larger vessels such as container ships and cruise liners.
We were very keen to find a low-weight, zero-carbon solution to replace the standard diesel engine onboard, but one that could give us a practical motoring range of typically at least eight hours, as required by the safety rules for yachts. Lithium batteries very quickly become too heavy and too expensive to meet this requirement and, through our early studies, we converged on hydrogen. It has the ability to offer a renewable fuel if produced by renewable energy, and can be stored at eight-to-ten times the energy density of batteries, and then used to generate clean power through the fuel cell.
Why did you want to do this? Where does your passion come from?
When I competed in my first transatlantic using only solar to power my electronics, I found it hugely invigorating to be harnessing natural energy and not to be starting a noisy generator that tends to regularly fill the cabin with smoke. From then on, I have always driven towards renewable solutions and to a lower carbon footprint, particularly when I realised just how dirty the marine industry is, which I find very alarming. Just 15 of the world’s biggest ships release as much sulphur dioxide as all the world’s cars put together.
What are you hoping to achieve by switching to clean energy technology?
Prototype projects like OceansLab are extremely important in order to advance hydrogen technology for offshore application and give the industry the knowledge and confidence needed for it to amplify development and uptake. Our core message is that green hydrogen and fuel cells are highly scalable and are critical technologies that we need to embrace in order to decarbonise marine, either on a small sail or motor yacht or for a large-scale container ship.
Do you think hydrogen is the way forward?
The latest studies done by Lloyds Register in collaboration with the Globe Maritime Forum indeed show that green hydrogen will be a vital mix in the pathway to decarbonisation for the maritime sector. Indeed, the price of green hydrogen, generated from renewables, is set to undercut all fossil fuels by 2030. It is this process that we are demonstrating through OceansLab, and we will be taking important learnings from our testing that can be applied to larger vessels.
While out on the ocean, have you observed the effects of climate change and pollution produced by maritime transport?
Countless times I have been engulfed in heavy pollution from ships. If you pass behind any ship, it is inevitable that you will be breathing in the thick, oily fumes – and sometimes you can even smell a ship from miles away. This gives an idea of just how much toxic smoke is dispersed in the form of NOx and SOx emissions, as well as carbon dioxide. I have noticed the wider effects of climate change with increased intensity and frequency of tropical storms in the Atlantic over the past few years. These are driven heavily by the sea temperature, which is making cyclones more severe and also extending the hurricane season.
What’s the next step?
Our next phase is to install our prototype on a new, cutting-edge race boat and to race around the world. This will demonstrate to the industry that this clean tech is a vital technology that can be embraced today, not several years down the line, in order to accelerate uptake of zero-emission solutions in the marine sector to displace fossil fuels.
In order to take on this next global challenge and commercialise the energy system, we are reaching out to additional sponsors and investors that can share in our mission to reduce pollution on the oceans through this highly scalable technology.
How has Covid-19 changed things from your perspective?
The pandemic has highlighted a few important things for me in order to address the climate emergency.
Firstly, it has shown that we don’t need fossil fuels at all if we can continue to reduce our energy demand during the pandemic recovery. There have been days in the UK recently where fossil fuel power generation has contributed as little as 15% to the energy mix, and where there has been an excess of renewable power available. With continued investment in offshore wind, renewables will soon, in any case, undercut all fossil fuels as well as nuclear power.
One way everyone can help accelerate this transition to clean energy is by switching to green energy tariffs which will also dramatically reduce their own carbon footprint and be personally very satisfying.
In terms of our health, recent studies have shown a strong correlation between NO2 exposure in polluted areas causing a marked increase in Covid-19 death rates in polluted areas. NO2 is produced largely from petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles, including ships, and dramatically increases the risk of respiratory diseases in large towns and ports.
By poisoning our environment, we are effectively poisoning our own body. For our own health, we need to make cycling a part of our routine and daily commute, and only drive where absolutely necessary. Electric bikes now make larger commuting distances much more accessible in order to replace driving. Electric and hydrogen buses need to replace diesel buses in order to decarbonise public transport.
The pandemic has really shown the huge potential for making positive change to our environment if we are to change our lifestyles. There is that realisation that we don’t necessarily need to travel to meetings aboard, and that organising simple conference calls frees up more time for spending with family.
How can we follow your progress and learn more about Oceans Lab?
For more information please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.oceanslab.world.