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Engineering Students Build World's First H2-Powered Hydrofoil Boat

Published Jun 30, 2021 2:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

A team of engineering students from TU Delft have succeeded in building and testing the world's first ever hydrofoiling hydrogen-powered boat. The "Hydro Motion" vessel is fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell, a fuel tank and three hydrofoils that lift the one-tonne trimaran more than a foot above the water when it reaches 12 knots.

With sea trials complete, the team will compete in the Yacht Club de Monaco's 8th Monaco Energy Boat Challenge. The marquee electric- and hydrogen-powered race is sponsored by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, and it kicks off next week. The TU Delft team will be going for the win in the challenging long-distance race, where their boat's low drag and high efficiency will give it an edge. 

The boat is operated by three pilots and reaches speeds of up to 22 knots. Its hydrogen gas fuel is stored under high pressure in an on-board tank. The fuel cell combines this hydrogen with oxygen from the air to generate electricity, which powers the motor. 

Three sturdy hydrofoils are fitted to the bottom of the hull, like an America's Cup yacht. At the take-off speed of about 12 knots, they generate enough lift to raise the hull about 15 inches out of the water. This drastically reduces hull resistance and lowers the energy requirements for propulsion. 

"We succeeded, we can say that with certainty. The entire boat has come out of the water. We are proud to announce with the team that we have made the world's first foiling hydrogen boat!" said Rick van Wilsem, the project's chief engineer. 

From July 8-10, the student team will compete in the Open Sea Class of the challenge, facing off against four battery-electric speedboat manufacturers. Electric and hydrogen powered boats will compete in three events: maneuverability, sprint and - the most important race - the long-distance challenge.

The hydrogen boat has been optimized for this last element of the race, which involves sailing for six hours on the open sea without refueling. The team that covers the most distance is the winner, and if Hydro Motion can sustain her top speed over the entire course, she will travel about 130 nm. By comparison, the longest-range competitor in the field - the battery-electric powered Candela 7 - has a top range of 50 nm per charge.

The race can be followed through the website and the social media channels of the TU Delft Solar Boat Team. The team is now busy with the final preparations, including a full practice-run race simulation for all team members to prepare for their roles. 

The 20-member team volunteered to put their studies aside for a full year to make the Hydro Motion project happen. Their mission is to inspire the maritime industry to pursue a green future, and they have assembled a giant list of sponsors who share that vision, including Damen, Port of Rotterdam, ABN AMRO, PWC, Boskalis, Cummins, Dassault Systemes, Huisman, ABB, IBM, Allianz, 3M, Panasonic and dozens more. 

Previously, TU Delft's Solar Boat Team made solar boats, as the name implies. After 15 years, it took a significant step with the transition to hydrogen. With the help of alumni and dozens of partner companies, the students took on the new challenge. Its new focus is commercially useful: to power working vessels, the industry needs research on an electrical energy storage medium like hydrogen.