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This boat shows the way to a clean energy future

The Race for Water, a revolutionary vessel entirely propelled by a mix of clean energies has departed for its five-year round the world odyssey. Running on a mix of solar power, batteries, hydrogen, and a high-altitude kite, the ambassador vessel to the Race for Water foundation is first heading to Bermuda at the end of...

The Race for Water départs from France toward Bermuda

The Race for Water, a revolutionary vessel entirely propelled by a mix of clean energies has departed for its five-year round the world odyssey. Running on a mix of solar power, batteries, hydrogen, and a high-altitude kite, the ambassador vessel to the Race for Water foundation is first heading to Bermuda at the end of May 2017, then to the Caribbean, including Cuba, before reaching California in March 2018. This journey has been termed an “Odyssey of Hope” for it will promote a fully viable alternative to fossil fuels.

If we were to trace the clean energy transition on aviation history then Solar Impulse would be the brilliant demonstration of the Wright brothers in 1903 and the Race for Water would be the feat of Santos Dumont with the first powered aircraft sold in kit as early as 1908. Barely forty years separated the first biplanes from the jet plane.

What will be our energy mix in forty years? Perhaps fossil fuels will be outdated! Why not allow ourselves to imagine that the big oil companies of today will become the advocates of a “clean” future? The good news is that all the advanced technologies used by the Race for Water are commercial, available to anyone. This Odyssey of Hope marks an inflection point in the clean energy transition. Through this event, we foresee the premises of the dazzling acceleration to clean energies that the world so badly needs, hope that the status quo will shatter from this point forward.

The goals of this Odyssey are four: 

  • To accelerate the clean energy transition by improving the mixed of solar – batteries – hydrogen  – and kite power of our ambassador vessel.
  • To promote innovative solutions capable of transforming plastic waste into energy resources (pilot project will be carried out in fall 2017).
  • To contribute to science by hosting international teams of researchers and educational science projects on our vessel.
  • To raise awareness among decision-makers, the public and younger generations about the urgent need to conserve the ocean.

Erik Solheim, Director General of UNEP, praises the Race for Water foundation for its initiative: “The Race for Water foundation proves that a zero-emissions future is not a distant dream – it is already becoming reality. UN Environment is proud to support the innovative vessel’s round-the-world odyssey. Its quest will demonstrate the power of renewable energy and inspire people to search for new solutions to keep our seas clean from plastic pollution.”



The vessel is propelled by a mix of energy sources: Solar, Batteries, Hydrogen, and Wind.


  • Solar and batteries:

Race for Water has 500m² of Sunpower Inc. solar panels, totalling 38,000 photovoltaic cells. Located on the upper deck of the catamaran and on the two detachable wings, this energy source can supply 93 kWh and power the engine at an average speed of around 5 knots. There are four stacks of Lithium-ion batteries from Energy Advanced Systems GmbH, holding a total of 754 KWh in reserve.

  • Hydrogen:

Swiss Hydrogen SA has integrated on board a unit for producing hydrogen from seawater. It contains: 25 cylinders of hydrogen at 350 bar to allow storage of approximately 200kg of hydrogen, which will be converted into more than 2,600 kWh of electricity, i.e. 4 times the electrical storage contained in the batteries (745 kWh). The hydrogen makes it possible to be self-sufficient for six days at a speed of 5 knots.

  • Wind:

Skysails GmbH has developed a new-generation traction kite with a surface area of 40m², which extends to a height of 150m, the equivalent of 500m² of sail on the sea or 200 kW of propulsion. It is an innovative and efficient invention, managed automatically, that will double the speed of the vessel under certain conditions and greatly enhance self-sufficiency.


Energy Trio figure


The future of clean energy is in the mix of sources

Producing energy from solar panels is a proven technology. However, there are still limitations to batteries. The current models are not able to store energy over several weeks without some wastage. Moreover, they are bulky and heavy, with a lifespan limited to about 5 years.

Hydrogen, combined with fuel cells, enables efficient storage of electrical energy. While sailing, solar energy is used to propel the boat, to power onboard systems, and to recharge batteries. When the boat is at port, surplus solar energy is used to produce hydrogen. When the wind allows it, the kite pulls the ship, which in turn relieves the solar, thus allowing it to be used to create hydrogen with the surplus electrical energy. The hydrogen can then be converted into electricity through the fuel cell system that will power the engines or recharge the batteries.


How the hydrogen and its fuel cell work:

Seawater is pumped, desalinated and stored on board.

  • This fresh water is then purified before being electrolysed thanks to the surplus photovoltaic energy available.
  • The electrolyser produces hydrogen at 50 bar, which is then compressed at 350 bar, and stored in specially dedicated cylinders. Nearly 200kg of hydrogen can be stored in this way.
  • The hydrogen will be reconverted to electricity through the two 30 kW fuel cells, as required. These fuel cells maintain the charge level of the batteries or directly power the electric engine (propellers).

Fuel Cell Figure


As a specialist in hydrogen technologies, Swiss Hydrogen is proud to be putting its know-how and experience at the service of ocean preservation. Beyond supplying our technology, we are passionately committed to the cause being championed by Race for Water. Our hydrogen solution designed for the vessel aims to demonstrate that clean-energy is a viable alternative to fossil fuel. Hydrogen technology is now mature, reliable and sustainable, both on land and at sea.” Alexandre Closset, President of Swiss Hydrogen SA


Systems based on commercially available technologies

The Foundation has chosen to develop solutions based solely on commercially available technologies. Our solution is therefore a model for others, who, like us, wish to advance the clean energy transition.

“I am pleased to be able to back another Swiss project that symbolises clean energy transition in a tangible way. The propulsion of the Race for Water vessel, based on the mix of solar, hydrogen and traction kite, will leave its mark in the history of our clean future. This solution, proposed by Race for Water, is at the cutting edge of innovation, but remains accessible to all because they have chosen to base it on commercially available technologies.” Bertrand Piccard, founder of the Solar Impulse project


An energy production model for islands and many communities around the world.

Islands are currently completely dependent on fossil fuels. It is only thanks to oil brought by container ships at huge expense that they can produce the majority of their electricity. The Race for Water vessel, which operates solely on energy from the sun, water and wind, is an energy transition model for islands that have the same natural resources.” says Marco Simeoni, president of the Race for Water Foundation. “Moreover, throughout the 2017-2021 Odyssey, the vessel will promote a technology capable of transforming plastic waste into energy, thus providing an additional source for the energy mix.”

We will learn a lot about managing mixed energy sources, do great science on-board, and expect to have numerous fulfilling discussion at each stop-over. We also hope to welcome students onboard as soon as we find the right sponsor. We will keep you updated of our journey on the National Geographic’s Ocean Views blog.

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Meet the Author

Race for Water Foundation
The Race for Water Foundation is an organization dedicated to the preservation of water and the ocean in particular. This indispensable resource is under massive threat from pollution and must be protected. The Foundation aims to identify, promote and implement technological solutions to preserve the ocean. Race for Water remains committed and head back to sea with the Race for Water Odyssey : a 5-year expedition around the world dedicated to science and energy transition, using the ocean, the sun and the wind as its sole sources of energy