Seawater-Powered Superyachts: Baglietto, Sanlorenzo and Lürssen’s Big Plans for Hydrogen Yachts

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The Aqua concept by Sinot Yacht Design | Source: Sinot Yacht Architecture & Design

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The race to build a zero-emission superyacht is on. Three of the biggest and most successful superyacht building companies have announced plans to incorporate hydrogen fuel cell technology into their yachts, including a seawater-powered system. This promises zero emissions, less waste and less damage to the marine environment.

Superyachts are amongst the worst greenhouse gas emitters that you can own. A typical vessel with a permanent crew can emit as much as 7,020 tons of CO2 a year; up to 1,500 times more than a typical family car at 1.5 to 4.6 tons of CO2.

Hydrogen fuel cells have been around for a very long time. Like electric cars, the technology has existed for well over 100 years, with the invention of the first electric car in 1832 predating the first hydrogen fuel cell by just six years.

A lot of the criticism of hydrogen fuel cell technology stems from the fact that the element does not exist in the form required to use it anywhere on Earth. Producing hydrogen in the liquid form required to power a fuel cell engine requires energy.

To power the superyachts of tomorrow, hydrogen must be extracted from other compounds and methanol is a good source of the element, but there are many other sources of hydrogen including seawater.

Another limitation of hydrogen is that it must be stored under extreme pressure and at a very low temperature, but many fuel cell engines these days use methanol instead of liquid hydrogen because it is easier to store.

It is becoming very common for fuel cells to use methanol due to its relatively inert properties, but the technology is moving very quickly and has numerous advantages over solar or wind power. The most obvious and important to seafarers is the ability to store fuel on the boat to increase its range.

Baglietto

Italian shipyard Baglietto has the lofty ambition of wanting to power their hydrogen fuel cell engine superyachts with seawater, which does have, after all, a chemical composition that includes mostly hydrogen.

At the 2021 Monaco Yacht Show, Baglietto revealed its BZERO project, investing in hydrogen fuel cell technology that converts seawater into green hydrogen using renewable sources of electricity.

The system will produce green hydrogen from seawater through a series of electrolyses powered by renewable energy. The denomination green refers to how many Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are produced by the electrolysing process, which requires electricity.

If you need fuel, even a little bit, to produce hydrogen then it is not 100% green. We believe the growth of green and hybrid technology of propulsion will be very quick in a couple of years so we have to be ready.

Fabio Ermetto, Baglietto Chief Commercial Officer

The shipyard aims to start producing seawater-powered superyachts by 2025 and will work with six Italian companies over the coming years to achieve this ambition, namely: Arco FC, Blue Energy Revolution, Enapter, H2BOAT, and Rina e Siemens Energy.

They have already started work on a 52-metre hull that will incorporate fuel cell technology. Whether it will be powered by seawater is unclear.

Baglietto is Developing a Seawater Powered Superyacht
Source: Superyacht Times

Sanlorenzo

Sanlorenzo has taken a more cautious, but perhaps more pragmatic approach. The shipyard plans to build a 50-metre superyacht powered partially by methanol fuel hydrogen cell technology that CEO Massimo Perotti has already purchased for himself.

It is worth noting that the propulsion system on this yacht will not be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell engine, just the hotel functions of the superyacht like the air conditioning and pool jets.

Despite this, Sanlorenzo says that yachts fitted with this “Net-zero GHG emission” system will be able to produce clean, green energy even when the generators and engines are switched off. Sanlorenzo will work with Siemens Energy to integrate fuel cells in the 24–80 metre yachting sector and develop a next-generation hybrid diesel-electric propulsion system.

So, while not as environmentally friendly as a purely green hydrogen-powered engine, the inclusion of a hydrogen fuel cell system on a superyacht slated for production as soon as 2024 represents a concrete commitment to using the technology from the shipyard.

San Lorenzo is building a Methanol-Hydrogen-Powered Superyacht
Source: San Lorenzo Yacht

Lürssen

Not one to be left behind, Lürssen has announced that it will be building a superyacht powered by a methanol-hydrogen power plant and that will be delivered by 2025. They have constructed a test plant at their shipyard and it will produce roughly 120kW of energy.

Sinot Yacht Design outlined its hydrogen fuel ambitions with the Aqua Concept in 2019. The superyacht uses a purely hydrogen-powered fuel cell system, which requires the storage of liquid hydrogen under immense pressure and at an incredibly low temperature. Methanol presents a good option for electrolysis and more hydrogen can be extracted from it than from water.

I think it’s a clear signal that owners who already invest substantial amounts in building yachts are willing to invest that extra bit of money to make that quantum leap of furthering propulsion technology and power technology on a yacht, and this will be a game-changer, especially since it has a lot of practical use.

Peter Lürssen, Lürssen Managing Partner

The German shipyard says that the only byproduct that the system produces is water vapour, but methanol-hydrogen engines do actually produce trace amounts of CO2 and heat in the conversion of methanol to hydrogen and oxygen.

Heat can be recycled but the main limitation of a methanol-hydrogen engine is the greenhouse gas that is produced in electrolysis. Lürssen points to the advantages in terms of weight and efficiency that make the development of the vessel worthwhile. The client who commissioned the vessel is said to love technology and new developments and required the shipyard to prove the practical value of the system before implementing it into the project.

This is yet another example of superyacht owners steering the industry, as most of these vessels are commissioned. It often comes down to the person purchasing the superyacht to suggest alternatives and innovative solutions. The 2022 World Superyacht Awards showed us just how many shipyards are pouring money into developing alternative fuels and sources of energy.

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