Breakthrough as ‘flying yacht’ produces green hydrogen in world-first

DRIFT Energy
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As the role of hydrogen power on the seas continues to make waves, UK-based DRIFT Energy has revealed a world-first breakthrough with the successful production of green hydrogen from the maiden voyage of its first purpose-built hydrofoil sailboat.

A number of headline stories of hydrogen in the marine and maritime sector have been in the news in recent weeks, but few of quite such a breakthrough nature, with DRIFT Energy claiming green hydrogen has not been produced in this way before anywhere in the world.

DRIFT’s energy yacht – dubbed the ‘flying yacht’ – was built by the White Formula of Brightlingsea, a third generation boatbuilder with Olympic gold medal winning heritage.

The yacht started out as a ‘pre-loved’ second-hand vessel originally made by White Formula, called a ‘Whisper’. Reuse is important to the sustainability values of DRIFT, and the high-performance and stability of the Whisper made a great platform for development.

Sea trials of the ground-breaking energy yacht took place off the coast of Brightlingsea, Essex earlier this month. The trials managed to produce approximately six litres of green hydrogen over a two-hour test run. H2 View understands the trial was so successful that the energy yacht outperformed expectations and could have produced over 10 times more green hydrogen.

DRIFT, having now proven the concept, is progressing plans for vessels capable of 250,000 litres per hour or more.

Ben Medland, Founder and CEO, enthused, “This is a real breakthrough in the creation of a net new renewable energy class – which is both mobile, scalable and anti-fragile. We are thrilled to have produced the world’s first green hydrogen from a hydrofoil sailboat in the waters off Brightlingsea.

“We are really pleased to have achieved the load factors we have in partnership with Faculty. We knew from computer modelling our concept had huge potential as it is essentially a mosaic of proven technologies such as commercial electrolysis units, turbines and hydrogen storage tanks. These first sea trials prove our energy yachts work in the real world.

“Our vessels allow us to generate energy in the so-called Goldilocks wind zones – where the wind is just right – on the world’s oceans and then deliver it to wherever it is needed. It is very exciting.”

Potential on the seas explained

DRIFT Energy’s business is pioneering this type of energy yacht design, but claims the secret ingredient is in using the power of data to find optimal weather conditions in which to route the vessels when at sea.

This routing algorithm is critical to DRIFT’s operations and unlocks a unique advantage over other renewable classes, by making green energy mobile.

Aforementioned artificial intelligence firm Faculty found that a flotilla of DRIFT’s energy yachts, operating from Penzance in the southwest UK, could achieve a load factor of 72.5%.1 By comparison, verified load factors for wind turbines in the UK are 26.5% for onshore wind farms and 39.9% for offshore wind farms.2

Faculty’s research into wind speeds across the North Atlantic indicates a load factor of 77% could be achieved off the coast of New York and, at some locations in the mid-Atlantic, load factors of 82% could be attained.

Faculty was asked by DRIFT to develop a routing algorithm that can continually optimise the course of the vessels to maintain the highest possible utilisation of the ship.

DRIFT’s boats will sail the ocean, which has wind speeds, wind orientations and wave heights that vary by the hour. Given a forecast of the environmental conditions, the task was to determine how far the rate of energy generation can be optimised over a specific time window. In optimising the route, rather than just look at the next best move the boat could make, Faculty’s algorithm looks several time-steps ahead so that it can take a more strategic approach to where the best winds will be – just like a chess player viewing a board.

Andy Perry, Director of Energy Transition and Environment at Faculty, explained, “The UK needs radical new ways to generate clean green energy if it is to reach net zero by 2050.

“Using AI to find the best sailing route to generate the most power in the shortest time means this new renewable energy class can make a meaningful contribution to the energy transition to a low-carbon future.

“AI is a force for good, and we will continue to help society and our customers meet their challenges through the transformational power of this technology.”

What comes next?

DRIFT Energy says the next phase of its work may look at issues such as the positioning of offshore docks, energy potentials in other oceans such as the Pacific, and the impact of climate change to routing behaviour.

To benefit from the load factors uncovered, DRIFT intends to conduct further sea trials, and increase the number of boats available to generate energy.

Medland added, “DRIFT is an ‘AND’ company, meaning we complement and add to the existing renewable toolset to speed-up the move to Net Zero.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved. DRIFT was founded only one year ago and in the last three months we have sourced, retrofitted and successfully trialled the first hydrofoiling hydrogen production yacht.”

Breakthrough as ‘flying yacht’ produces green hydrogen in world-first