What Could Have Been

The hydrogen-electric superyacht first gained notoriety because of its rumored owner, but hopefully its renewable power source will capture the media’s attention next.

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Bill Gates

Bill Gates

Sinot Yacht Architecture & Design first debuted its concept yacht Aqua at the Monaco Yacht Show in 2019. Aqua should have been notable enough on its own; when complete, it will be the world’s first hydrogen-electric-powered superyacht. But the concept gained even more media attention than anticipated, as multiple outlets reported that the concept had been sold to Bill Gates.

Bill Gates is one of the world’s leading philanthropists, so his alleged purchase of a 370-foot hydrogen-powered superyacht seems plausible. What better way to lead the march for renewable energy than by spending $644 million on a personal vessel? Gates is known to regularly rent superyachts for holidays, which leaves a significant carbon footprint, but he has never owned one himself; perhaps he was waiting for something sustainable to hit the market so he didn’t have to dirty the environment during his vacations. That the luxury yacht would help him perpetuate his long-standing rivalry with the late Steve Jobs, who owned the 256-foot mega yacht Venus, valued at a measly $120 million, would be just an added bonus.

Alas, though the speculation was not all that farfetched, Sinot has since reported that Aqua has not been purchased by the philanthropic billionaire and that potential “visionary” clients are invited to show interest in the concept, which is anticipated to be complete in 2024. If Gates doesn’t want the superyacht, perhaps Elon Musk will bite, you know, so he can maintain his control over the latest and greatest renewable technologies.

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The superyacht will be configured with five decks. It will have a series of descending platforms aft that end with a large swim platform for easy access to the water. There will be accommodations for 14 guests between the owner’s pavilion, two VIP staterooms and four guestrooms. There will also be room for 31 crew. The yacht is expected to cruise at 10 to 12 knots and top off at 17 knots with a 3,750-nm range.

Aqua will have two 28-ton vacuum-sealed tanks to store liquified hydrogen at a cool -423 degrees Fahrenheit. The hydrogen fuel will power two one-megawatt motors by creating electricity through an electrochemical reaction with oxygen. Water is the byproduct.

On a mass scale, hydrogen-electric power appears to be a hopeful carbon-neutral option to complement electric power, but there are some factors standing in the way. About 95 percent of hydrogen is produced through methods requiring fossil fuels, and while charging stations for electric vessels are available at marinas, hydrogen-fueling stations are not. Still, Torqeedo founder, and electic propulsion maven Dr. Christoph Ballin, thinks hydrogen will be a viable alternative to fuel if it can become readily available through a renewable power source. “Hydrogen has a very high energy density, so using a fuel cell to charge batteries means the range limitations of electric mobility can be overcome while becoming carbon-neutral,” Ballin says.

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While Aqua will be the first superyacht to utilize hydrogen as its main power source, the technology isn’t totally new. The automobile industry has already jumped on the alternative energy source, and in the U.S., you have three hydrogen-powered models to choose from: the Honda Clarity, Hyundai Nexo and Toyota Mirai. Due to the lack of hydrogen-refilling stations at docks, the marine industry is a bit behind, but hydrogen has been utilized as a back-up power source for the past three years on the Energy Observer, a vessel that cruises the world using only energy that it generates itself and that is exploring the possibility of using hydrogen as its main power source in the future. Hydrogen is being considered for other marine vessels as well; it will power Maid of the Mist tour boats at Niagara Falls and fishing vessels in Japan, for starts.

Aqua has already successfully managed to confuse the media for a day. Hopefully its next success is in leading the marine industry towards considering hydrogen-electric power for larger cruising vessels. If the yacht isn’t purchased by Bill Gates, its price tag will ensure that it is purchased by another multi-billionaire, one who is passionate about advocating for renewable energy. As long as they are advocating from their yacht’s infinity pool or one of its many outdoor lounges, that is.

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