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Toyota Support Energy ObserverToyota Corporation supports the Energy Observer Expedition | Image: Toyota Europe

Changing the Current to Power the Future

Posted 11.27.17 by Carol Brighton

In a quiet mutiny, auto, mass transit, transport and more industries are seeking to abandon polluting energy sources and are investing in hydrogen fuel cells. One major player betting on the technology is Toyota.  According to Takeshi Uchiyamada, Chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation, “the world in the 21st century must transition to widespread low carbon energy use. Hydrogen is an indispensable resource to achieve this transition because it can be used to store and transport wind, solar and other renewable electricity to power transportation and many other things.” Uchiyamada is also involved with the World Hydrogen Council. The group recently released a report asserting that hydrogen could contribute to 20% of CO2 emissions reduction targets by 2050.

With a vision to build a hydrogen future, Toyota France has dived into to support a pioneering mission to showcase the potential of hydrogen: A round-the-world hydrogen powered journey in a state-of-the-art self-fueling vessel that captures the power in nature without harming it.

Energy Observer VesselCheck out the interactive Energy Observer Vessel Display | Image: Energy Observer

Repurposed from the Formule Tag, a former world record racing catamaran, the Energy Observer has been converted into a floating laboratory to trial and demonstrate climate friendly propulsion. The zero emission ship is equipped with solar panels, wind turbines, and kite sails. The sails not only assist in driving the vessel, but also generate electricity. The real game changing innovation, though, is the onboard system to electrolyze hydrogen from seawater. An autonomous system contained in the hulls collects and processes seawater and stores the hydrogen. When more renewable energy is being generated than can be used, the excess power is used to produce hydrogen. The high energy density gas is compressed and stored in high pressure tanks that supply the twin Mirai fuel cells provided by Toyota. Without the need for heavy batteries, the vessel is much lighter and thus more efficient than the Tûranor Planet Solar the solar electric vehicle that circled the globe several years ago.

Like the team behind the Tûranor Planet Solar, French visionaries behind the Energy Observer are likewise attempting an ambitious international tour. In July the crew embarked on a 6 year long odyssey to showcase how renewable tech solutions can be integrated into every day life and support a desperately needed transition to fossil free energy.  Along the way, they are searching for and promoting the sustainable solutions being developed by clean tech pioneers all over the globe.  And they are sharing their discoveries for a cleaner future. So far, their web and youtube sites have featured a tidal power developer, an eco surfboard design shop, and a green roofed, off the grid floating barge home. Just beginning a journey to over 100 cities in 50 countries, they are sure to uncover some fascinating eco-entrepreneurial stories. You can follow along on their website or associated social medial outlets.

Map_Energy_Observer_ExpeditionImage: Energy Observer

Captained by a former offshore racer who once sailed for the the thrill of it, Victorien Erussard now feels compelled to sail for a cause: a commitment for our planet.  He is accompanied by professional explorer, diver and film maker Jérôme Delafosse. The expedition co-leader inspired by Jacques Cousteau notes, that “in the past, man explored to conquer territories and amass wealth. With Energy Observer, we wish to explore differently. That’s why our expedition will focus on discovering and sharing solutions for a cleaner future.”

In November Erussard, was at the COP23 Paris Climate talks in Bonn to participate in a Hydrogen Council event where the fuel cell tech was acclaimed as a major player in the energy transformation.  According to Erussard, “Hydrogen is the last step of the decarbonization process and is a tremendous solution for the future of energy, without CO2 or fine particles.” During the international event, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, passed on an oddly familiar sounding #hashtag slogan symbol, “Make Our Planet Great Again,” to Erussard and the Energy Observer team.  The symbol, pictured with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a twitter post will be housed on the vessel through the odyssey. (Schwarzenegger by the way was at the event to participate with other state governors, including Virginia’s in a #WeAreStillIn discussion. Read more in an upcoming post.)


To learn more about the already underway power shift to hydrogen, check out the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Connection.  There you can learn more about hydrogen generated by tidal power for electric ferries, Toyota’s pilot "Project Portal" that started drayage routes at the Port of Los Angeles, a 7.4 MW fuel cell plant for the US Navy Submarine Base in Groton, CT and the production of hydrogen from wastewater that can be used to power treatment plants or fuel local vehicles.

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