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Energy Observer

The first hydrogen vessel around the world

Drawing energy from nature without damaging or wasting it is the Energy Observer team’s vision for the future. The vessel is a catamaran powered by hydrogen and renewable energies. Air Liquide, which has been involved in the development of hydrogen energy, particularly for mobility, for over 20 years, is supporting this scientific and technological project showcasing the role of hydrogen in the energy transition.

7 years

around the world




planned ports of call

A human, scientific and technological adventure

Energy Observer, a project initiated by Captain Victorien Erussard and the explorer Jérôme Delafosse, is embarking on a trip around the world lasting seven years (from 2017 to 2023) and visiting 50 countries, with 101 ports of call along the way. Its big challenge is to power the vessel entirely using a mix of clean and renewable energies that can produce decarbonized hydrogen directly on board.

The mission of Energy Observer is threefold:

  • Test, proof, and optimize the onboard technologies under extreme conditions for subsequent application on land
  • Search for sustainable solutions where they are found and take part in their deployment
  • Demonstrate to key audiences - the public, local governments, and businesses - that the energy transition is possible
Energy Observer at the Viva Technology fair

In French only (subtitles available on YouTube)


“There is not one miracle solution that will fight climate change: there are many solutions that we need to learn how to make work together.”

Victorien Erussard, Energy Observer Captain

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This is what we are doing with Energy Observer: combining energies from nature with those from human sources, by bringing onboard this vessel the combined knowhow of businesses, laboratories, start-ups and institutions.


Hydrogen, a virtuous source of energy

The defining feature of Energy Observer, a genuine floating laboratory, is that it operates with a mix of renewable energies: wind, solar and hydrogen produced from seawater. The following technologies can be found on board:

  • A wind turbine thruster, the Oceanwings®
  • Bifacial thermoformed and conformable solar panels for a surface area of over 140 m2
  • A full hydrogen production line

Thanks to these energy sources, seawater is transformed into hydrogen for the first time.

Hydrogen, vector of energy, fills the renewable energy intermittency gap

The two floats of the catamaran serve as technical rooms and integrate the entire hydrogen production line. An onboard system allows seawater to be collected, desalinated and deionized. Once purified, the water molecules are decomposed to obtain hydrogen. Lastly, a fuel cell transforms the molecules into electricity and heat as needed. This process generates neither greenhouse gases nor particulate matter.

The efficiency and performance of this complete hydrogen chain in a potentially hostile marine environment will validate its application and development for other large-scale applications, maritime as well as on land, mobile as well as stationary.

Energy storage

Energy Observer chose complementary storage systems: short-term storage in a set of Li-Ion batteries, and eight hydrogen tanks for long-term storage. These tanks, with a capacity of 332 liters can store a total of 62 kg of hydrogen, which provides the same energy as 230 liters of fuel. The global net energy stored is 1 MWh. The engineers initially planned to place this bulky storage in the hulls of the catamaran, but they finally decided to distribute the tanks in external well decks on each wing. This ensures the tanks are in a watertight environment, protected from sea spray, prevents confinement, and facilitates handling for maintenance. It did, however, require complex calculations for the weight distribution and the tank support design.


“This boat demonstrates what hydrogen is intended to bring to the construction of an autonomous energy universe: the ability to manage the gaps between production and need and to intelligently fill these gaps in the form of electric energy.”

Pierre-Etienne Franc, Vice President, advanced Business and Technologies Air Liquide

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Energy Observer combines all of the key technologies needed to transition to a hydrogen energy system: electrolysis, which breaks up water molecules; a fuel cell, which generates energy in the form of electricity and heat; and all storage solutions.


Air Liquide as a partner

Air Liquide masters the entire hydrogen supply chain, from production and storage to distribution and the development of applications for end users, thus contributing to the widespread use of hydrogen as a clean energy.

With its Blue Hydrogen program, Air Liquide is gradually shifting toward the decarbonized production of hydrogen and has made a commitment to produce at least 50% of the hydrogen necessary for these applications through carbon-free processes by 2020, by combining the use of renewable energies, water electrolysis, and biogas reforming; and the use of technologies for the capture and upgrading of carbon emitted during the process of producing hydrogen from natural gas.

Support for Energy Observer also illustrates the Group’s desire to contribute to a more sustainable world.

Energy Observer official website

All pictures on this page: © Energy Observer - Jérémy Bidon, Amélie Conty, Marta Sostres and Antoine Drancey 

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Article published on November 14, 2017