A superyacht with sustainable intentions
Italian shipyard VSY has announced WATERECHO, a yacht designed to run on hydrogen fuel cells, part of a wider strategy to make superyachting more sustainable.
As autumn rolls around and winter stands shivering on the doorstep, new yacht concepts seem to fall from design studios and yards like leaves from the trees. Dig through the mounting pile, however, and there are always a few that are much more than they seem at first glance. WATERECHO from Viareggio Super Yachts (VSY) is one such project.
This yacht is more than just another exercise in drawing attention to a yard’s offering – it is the latest statement in a manifesto for sustainability that VSY has been compiling over the past few years. Her design may look familiar – she comes from the drawing board of renowned designer Espen Øino, whose DNA has found its way into a number of previous VSY yachts – but under the skin she is a new breed of vessel. VSY is collaborating closely with tech company Siemens and classification society Lloyd’s Register to put hydrogen fuel cell technology at WATERECHO’s core.
Hydrogen-powered bus in London
Hydrogen-powered bus in London
Fuel cells have been talked about for years, promising clean, green energy from which the only emission is pure water. It is only recently that fuel cells have begun to make their way toward commercial viability, but with other transport sectors beginning to look seriously at the considerable advantages of fuel cells – there are hydrogen-powered buses in London, for example, and major car manufacturers like Toyota are starting to mass-produce hydrogen cars – we could finally be on the brink of a paradigm shift in energy sources. It is one of the reasons VSY has chosen to incorporate hydrogen into the WATERECHO concept.
“The brief for WATERECHO covered many aspects to try to capitalise on what had been done on previous projects,” begins Espen Øino. “She is reminiscent in her exterior styling of some of the other boats we have done for VSY such as the 2013-launched 72m Stella Maris, while at the same time capitalising on and developing the work we’ve done on our 62m VSY concept. Of course, central to WATERECHO is a fresh look at the energy systems on board with Siemens to see what can be integrated today into her proven platform in terms of alternative fuels, while packaging it all in something people will be able to see themselves on both from and exterior design and an interior layout point of view.”
The challenges are not inconsiderable. “There aren’t that many places today where you can actually purchase hydrogen in sizable quantities [to refuel],” offers Øino, “but it’s developing rapidly. For example, in my home country of Norway they are looking at using hydrogen for coastal ferries and they are starting to put in place the infrastructure that would permit ferry operators to fuel with hydrogen on a regular basis.”
It is, as Øino points out, a bit of a chicken and egg situation – but all-electric cars have been through the same process and where once there was a similar issue with infrastructure, now charging points and battery tech have combined to make such vehicles a viable reality. Even so, developing a yacht to run on fuel cells is as much a statement of intent as it is a feasible solution for cruising cleanly. “It’s a bold step,” Øino admits, “and a little bit provocative – we are offering something which hopefully by the time a client has signed up to it and the yard has completed the build, the facilities will exist. It is, however, very exciting.”
The idea of creating such an ecologically advanced superyacht is not quite such a leap for VSY as it may seem. In fact, the shipyard has been taking a serious look at the issue of lifecycle sustainability in superyachting for a while. “The main purpose of the project is to assess the specific safety and technical requirements for feeding the stern electric engine in a completely green and sustainable mode,” says Vienna Eleuteri, VSY’s sustainability manager.
“VSY is analysing all the possible things they can do to make a difference, really trying to take things as far as is possible given current infrastructure,” adds Øino. “Vienna Eleuteri is working on an enormously ambitious project to try to assess the impact of all the design choices you make from the outset of a project to delivery of the end product. It considers the circular economy from the energy used in making the base materials through to the energy required to recycle them.” This project, part of the new Water Revolution Foundation, aims to optimise the design and production processes using computational sustainability.
“The most important way really to do something, not just properly, but to have a bigger positive impact on our society,” adds Eleuteri, “is to get a lighter footprint, embrace naval green technology, and have an organic vision of the production chain including a cradle-to-grave perspective of our product, while at the same time re-investing in ocean conservation.”
As for WATERECHO itself, work continues on developing the concept both from a technical and a design standpoint. “We’ve come up with an interior layout and the exterior concept, and now we’re working with three interior designers to see how we can optimise the inside and outside spaces and make the yacht a practical proposition for clients,” Øino concludes. “As for the hydrogen fuel cell power, there are some dynamic changes going on. In the past year we have been asked a couple of times by clients to look into alternative fuels, and now companies such as Siemens are offering working systems. It’s really interesting, and super exciting.” It seems VSY’s WATERECHO project, then, is less about the encroachment of autumn and more about the embodiment of spring – a new lease of life for superyachting, perhaps.