A zero fossil fuel superyacht
A zero fossil fuel superyacht

A zero fossil fuel superyacht

Foundation Zero is driving the development of Zero, a groundbreaking superyacht aiming to be entirely fossil fuel-free. Led by a diverse team of experts, the project explores innovative solutions like hydrogeneration and thermal batteries. Scheduled for delivery in 2025, Zero sets a new standard for sustainable luxury yachting.

By Dominique Afacan | 18 March 2024

A zero fossil fuel superyacht might sound like an impossible dream – but make no mistake – steps are being taken to make it a reality. There have been huge advances in finding sustainable solutions for superyachts in recent years, but none have gone all the way to building a net-zero luxury vessel – until now. 

The groundbreaking yacht – named Zero – is supported by a new sustainable organisation focused on sharing open-source renewable energy solutions and technical innovations called Foundation Zero, populated with experts from both outside and inside the industry. Marnix Hoekstra of design studio Vripack is one of the experts involved from within the yachting world. 

A zero fossil fuel superyacht
A zero fossil fuel superyacht

“What is noteworthy with the Foundation is that next to industry leaders in naval architecture and sailing – there are also very high-end computer coders, battery experts and others, who might not know anything about yachting but know everything about their own field,” he explains. The result is a sort of dream team of talent who are putting their heads together to conduct priceless research and to innovate like never before.  

In the end, yes there will be a yacht created,” says Hoekstra, “but the biggest achievement will be all the individual elements which we’re developing and prototyping that will be made available for the general public, so that the rest of the world can use them for their own benefit.” That open source structure is thanks to forward-thinking initiators who are motivated to make real, measurable change. “The foundation does not believe in a closed, secretive industry but is very much on the forefront of collaboration and idea-sharing,” explains Hoekstra.   

A zero fossil fuel superyacht
A zero fossil fuel superyacht

Starting from scratch

Building a zero-fossil fuel superyacht requires a total rethink in terms of designing a yacht. “We can’t run any kind of engine on board – there is no engine room!” says Hoekstra. Dykstra Naval Architects, who are part of the project – have been heavily involved in finding alternatives. “We feel hydrogeneration will be the largest source of energy on board to top up the batteries,” explains Mark Leslie-Miller. “The concept itself is not new but the extent to which we rely on it on this yacht had big implications. 

Dykstra Naval Architects designed a similar system on the groundbreaking yacht Black Pearl where they used the rotation of the main propellers to harvest energy – and for Project Zero, they saw opportunities to improve on the system even further. “Still, it takes a brave team,” says Leslie-Miller, “and it will definitely have implications on the operational planning of the yacht – you can’t do whatever you like with it.”

Leslie-Miller points to the most challenging scenario – staying at anchor for a week. “You’ll use a lot of energy for systems and laundry and cooking, but you still need to replenish that energy. Part of it can be done by solar but it’s not enough – so you’ll need to go sailing or restock the batteries.”

The Foundation is also investigating the use of thermal batteries to drive the air-conditioning of the yacht. “For this we are researching how to harvest heat from the solar panels that we’ll have on board,” says Hoekstra.  The technology will be interesting for the whole industry as in theory it could be used on board any vessel. 

A zero fossil fuel superyacht
A zero fossil fuel superyacht

An industry-wide influence? 

So, how long before some of Project Zero’s innovations are absorbed by the wider industry? “The superyacht industry as a whole is really willing to understand things better and try to learn – however they also still need to fully open up their eyes,” says Hoekstra. “ They are very focused on picking the right fuel – but obviously leaving no footprint goes far beyond that.”

Leslie- Miller agrees. “I think it’ll take a while until there are more zero fossil fuel yachts because it takes a brave owner. But I think all the little side projects we’re doing simultaneously can individually be used on other yachts. For instance, you don’t have to be as extreme as Project Zero when using hydrogeneration – you could for example, use it to stock up a battery and enjoy a silent night period after sailing all day – that’s something a lot of clients would enjoy. Or there’s the option to keep the generator off while you’re crossing the ocean.”

Of course, there have been boats sailing across the ocean without any fossil fuels for centuries so it was never a case of ‘this can’t be done.’ “It never crossed our minds to say it was impossible,” says Leslie Miller, “we were just curious to see how comfortable and flexible we could make the yacht.”

“Part of the brief is also that the yacht should be stunning. So there is to be no compromise on aesthetic as such,” says Hoekstra. Already the yacht’s aluminium hull is being outfitted at Vitters in the Netherlands. “The mentality to prove that nothing is impossible resonates throughout our shipyard and has done from the day we started,” says Bas Peute of Vitters. “Vitters has introduced a number of innovations such as the V-drum, V-bollard, V-anchoring and V-pods which have become the industry standard. We are convinced that Project Zero will again set the benchmark for the industry which makes us very proud.” 

The yacht is scheduled for delivery in 2025. The industry waits with bated breath.

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