Toyota tests maritime hydrogen fuel cell tech in Energy Observer catamaran

John Beltz Snyder



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Toyota’s hydrogen initiatives aren’t limited to dry land. After all, maritime shipping is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases. Taking knowledge it has gained from and tech it has developed for the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, Toyota has now developed a fuel cell system for maritime applications. Its first delivery goes to the Energy Observer, a former racing catamaran that has been converted to run on a mix of renewable energies for a new mission: to show the world that sea voyages can be greener while creating economic opportunity.

As a supplement to wind and solar, hydrogen power seems like a natural fit for maritime transport. After all, there’s no shortage of the atom at sea, and if a vessel can isolate its own hydrogen from seawater — as the Energy Observer is able to through electrolysis — it’s essentially free energy. The Energy Observer uses solar cells and wind turbines as part of its energy mix to provide propulsion and to power the electrolyzer.

Of course, with wind and solar available, hydrogen isn't the most efficient energy source. The Energy Observer uses an energy management system to optimize efficiency. When able, the boat uses solar and wind energy to directly power the propulsion. For short interruptions such as cloudy weather, energy stored in the lithium-ion batteries takes over, while the hydrogen fuel cell system powers the boat at night and during other extended interruptions.

As for Toyota’s role, it adapted the Mirai’s fuel cell system into a more compact module especially for this sort of application. Toyota then worked with the Energy Observer team to install it in the boat and test it at dock. Now, the system undergoes full-power testing at sea before the Energy Observer continues on its official six-year mission to visit 101 ports in 50 countries to spread the word about clean energy. So far, the boat has logged three years, 18,000 nautical miles, 25 countries and 48 ports.

“We are very proud to embark the Toyota Fuel Cell System on our ocean passages, and test it in the roughest conditions,” said Energy Observer founder and Captain Victorien Erussard. “After three years and nearly 20,000 nautical miles of development, the Energy Observer energy supply and storage system is now very reliable, and we look forward to the next step of the project: Get a reliable and affordable system available for our maritime community. We believe that the Toyota Fuel Cell System is the perfect component for this, industrially produced, efficient and safe.”

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