Dr. Katia Nicolet, a marine biologist, is part of two, five-person crews rotating on board the Energy Observer. The self-sufficient, 100-foot catamaran is the first round-the-world, hydrogen-powered sea vessel. It’s a working lab designed to showcase zero-emission technologies and demonstrate that clean energies can be accessible to everyone.
As part of its six-year odyssey, the Energy Observer arrived in early May on Pier 9 in San Francisco about two weeks after entering the United States in Long Beach, California.
Nicolet, who has been involved with the project for about a year, is our guest on this episode of The Weekly Driver Podcast.
After joining several other guests for Nicolet’s extensive tour of the vessel, co-hosts Bruce Aldrich and James Raia interviewed our host about a wide range of topics — sustainable energy to living on the ocean for extended durations.
“Everything is covered in solar panels and looks black,” said Nicolet at the beginning of our podcast recorded in a makeshift sit-in area on the pier and among storage containers. “The primary source of our electricity comes from the solar panels.
Energy Observer: Six-Year Worldwide Voyage
“The main goal here is to be fully autonomous in energy and to go around the world only using renewable energy and hydrogen and not a single emission of C02 or any other kind of greenhouse gasses.”
The Catamaran is a hybrid-propelled vessel. It also has two sails, described by Nicolet as “more like wings.”
“Let’s say if we have 10 or 15 knots of wind, we are able to sail with what we call ocean wings,” she explained.
Energy Observer began its voyage in Saint-Malo, France in 2017. It has navigated more than 30,000 nautical miles.
While two crews rotate about every six weeks, each five-person team includes a captain, engineer, a reporter, a scientist and boatswain, who Nicolet describes as “kind of the Swiss Army Knife of the ship.” All crews share duties, cooking to cleaning.
Toyota is among the Energy Observer’s primary sponsors.
“Yes, Toyota is one of our sponsors and we really like them,” Nicolet said
Two years ago, engineers from the manufacturer and the Energy Observer collaborated to create the fuel cell the vessel is currently using. Toyota is using its fuel cell in the Mirai, the hydrogen car introduced in California in 2015.
“They adapted those cars’ fuel cells to be more compact, to fit inside the boat and that’s the fuel cell we’ve been using for two years now,” Nicolet said. “It’s much more efficient than what we had created when the project began in France.
“People tend to think that hydrogen is very dangerous, but I have been sleeping two meters away from big hydrogen tanks and it’s really rough seas this boat has been experiencing. We have big swells and lightning storms and really rough conditions and we’ve never had any issues.”
The Energy Observer is now en route to Hawaii. It will then continue to Japan.
F0llow the global voyage of the Energy Observer on the website: www.energy-observer.org
Please join us for our interview with Dr. Katia Nicolet as she details her life at sea with an engaging combination of science and a sense of humor.
The Weekly Driver Podcast encourages and appreciates feedback from our listeners. Please forward episode links to family, friends and colleagues. And you are welcome to repost links from the podcast to your social media accounts. The idea of more eyeballs on more content works for us.
Support our podcast by shopping on Amazon.com. A graphic display at the bottom of the post links to automotive selections of the online retailer. But there’s also a search function for anything available directly from the site.
If you shop via this site, we receive a small commission. It helps us continue to produce independent content. The site began in 2004 and includes more than 700 reviews.
The podcast is in its third year, and we’ve had a diverse collection of guests — famous athletes, vintage car collectors, manufacturer CEOs, automotive book authors, industry analysts, a movie stuntman and episodes from auto shows and car auctions.
Every episode is also available on your preferred podcast platform. Several of the more prominent platforms are listed below.