The Dutch drive for greener competitive sailing

By Robert Wielaard

THE HAGUE – Does any sport look greener than Olympic sailing? Perhaps not, and that’s misleading. A significant source of pollution in the sport comes from coach boats whose fossil fuel engines emit CO2, NOx and Sox gases.

World Sailing, the sport’s governing body, is cleaning up its act. By 2025, it says, all official boats at its events must be at least hybrid-powered. Organizers of the 2022 world championships on the North Sea of The Hague plan to go further. They want coach boats by then to be zero-emission Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) with hydrogen-electric propulsion.

The scale of the emission problem in competitive sailing is considerable. At major regatta events, there can be more coach boats on the water than sailboats. The zero-emission coach boat project is one of a host of hydrogen projects across the Dutch yacht and shipbuilding industries.

A Delft University of Technology (TUDelft) study finds that deploying zero-emission hydrogen-electric coach boats “is technically feasible by 2022.” Its 10-page report to the mid-November HISWA International Symposium on Yacht Design and Yacht Construction in Amsterdam sees a future for “a combined propulsion system with a 122-liter hydrogen tank connected to a PEM fuel cell.”

It is a technology used in electric cars that combines hydrogen and oxygen to make water vapor and electricity. Backed by a 1 kWh lithium-ion battery, it can power a 44.1 kW electric motor linked to a sterndrive or an electric outboard.

49 Class in action

TUDelft’s feasibility study is based on a coach boat for the 49 class. The two-handed skiff-type sailing dinghy is the fastest Olympic class. It must have a 30-kn top speed, able to do a day of training sessions without refueling and must fit on a trailer and into a 40-ft container. The report opted for pure compressed hydrogen as an energy carrier, a common practice in the car industry.

The report says a zero-emission coach boat is feasible if equipped with a combined propulsion system in which the PEM fuel cell converts hydrogen into electrical energy.

Its main components would be a 122.4 L hydrogen tank (87.5 kg.), a hydrogen-powered PEM fuel cell (43 kW, 86 kg.), a 1 kWh lithium-ion battery (7.2 kg.) and a 44.1 kW electric outboard or one on a sterndrive (100 kg. each).

TUDelft cautions much remains to be done if a zero-emission RHIB can premier at the 2022 world championships sailing. For starters, an inventory must be made of refueling stations at training and regatta locations. “Since hydrogen is a relatively new energy source,” it says, “the current infrastructure for refueling is still insufficient.”

Also requiring attention: rules on transporting hydrogen across the Netherlands and checking out legislation covering small craft at sea using hydrogen-electric powered propulsion.