Hydrogen-Powered Sailboats Set Sail

Coming to a dead calm near you: the hydrogen-powered sailboat

by Jason Lee

Modern sailing yachts’ dirty little secret is that nearly all have diesel engines for windless days. Kind of spoils the romance of working with what the sea provides, doesn´t it? By late this year, though, a California company called HaveBlue will sell what is essentially a self-sufficient power system. A wind generator and two banks of solar panels provide electricity for cabin appliances (radar, fridge and so on), and any surplus juice goes to electrolysis. HaveBlue harvests hydrogen from water (salinated or fresh), stores it in solid-matrix tanks, and uses it to run a fuel cell that produces electricity for the motor. It gets 300-plus miles from the tanks at full capacity. Self-sufficiency doesn´t come cheap, though: HaveBlue´s system will run $300,000 to $550,000. (Boat sold separately.)


1. Solar panels
Two solar-panel arrays provide 400 watts of power to the cabin systems and electrolysis machine.

2. Wind generator
A small windmill generates 90 watts under peak conditions.
It starts producing juice with just
five knots of wind.

3. Fuel cell
By stripping electrons from hydrogen molecules, the fuel
cell produces 10 kilowatts of electricity and some steam. While
the electricity runs the motor, the steam can be used to raise the
storage tanks´ temperature, causing them to release more hydrogen.

4. Regenerative motor
When under sail, rushing water spins the propeller, generating
electricity. The drag costs about 1.5 knots in speed but can produce 500 watts for storage. In a dead calm, the motor propels the boat at eight knots, and it occupies a quarter of the space that a diesel engine would.


5. Hydrogen storage tanks
Matrices inside six storage tanks absorb hydrogen molecules and store up to 17 kilograms of the fuel source as nonvolatile metal hydride-crucial for safety. Built into the keel, they replace 3,000 pounds of lead ballast, so as not to affect performance.

6. Water tanks
A reverse-osmosis water maker desalinates water for cabin use, and a deionizing filter turns some of it into pure H2O, the hydrogen source.

7. Electrolyzer
Running an electric current through purified water separates H2O into its component elements, generating hydrogen.