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Victorien Erussard: co-leader and president of the Energy Observer expedition

Victorien Erussard: co-leader and president of the Energy Observer expedition
04 Dec
Victorien Erussard is the co-leader and president of the Energy Observer expedition, the first ship to sail around the world powered only by hydrogen, wind and solar power. The expedition will take six years to complete and the crew recently completed stage one of the journey, finishing in London

I was a merchant shipping officer. I used to sail on cruise ships and ferry boats. So I have seen all the problems with chemical engines, CO2 emissions and fine particles.

The condition of the planet brought me to this project. I started to plan it in 2013. At the beginning it was an electric boat with a mix of renewable energies. But I didn’t want to stop at electric propulsion and only one type of technology. When I researched hydrogen I saw that the energy density is more efficient than batteries. I could see that it would be a good way to supply energy when the renewables stop – when there’s no wind or sun.

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I wanted to create a system which is an example for applications on the land as well. Hydrogen is a very good energy vector. We are showing that what we can do at sea, we can replicate for houses, for industry. In parallel, I wanted to sail all around the world and meet the pioneers of sustainable development, to meet people creating solutions.

This is a scientific project and a political project, because clearly we can’t continue as we are. We are seeing that politicians cannot really change anything alone. Industry has to do it. Citizens and the whole value chain have to be involved. To progress we have to have an association between the media, politicians, industry and citizens.

We have had to build this boat to integrate all this technology. It was a big job and a huge responsibility. Everything has been difficult. To create the team has been very hard, as well as to convince partners to join the project. I have worked a lot of hours. And it’s not finished because the project is still growing. Personally, I have to progress in all activities – in marketing, communication and technical. I am not only the captain, I am the founder, the president of the company. It’s hard but I am quietly proud.

We have just finished the first phase. Now we have a second phase which will be really interesting. Next year we have 20,000 nautical miles to cover. We leave Europe on 15 February, we cross the Atlantic, stay in America for a short while, then spend a while in Asia. After that it’s Oceania, India, Africa, South America. There’s always something to do on this boat because it’s a floating laboratory and we have to improve the technology every time. And we also have a production team on board who make a film for every voyage.

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It can be fun being on board, though this year it was a little bit less so. In the Mediterranean there’s sun and swimming. But this year we were focused on getting to Spitsbergen which was a big energy challenge. It was difficult because sometimes when you sail you have the wind with you, you have the sun with you. But to reach Spitsbergen there was a headwind in front of us and the clouds were blocking the sun. Energy production was less efficient. We still had enough power, because the boat is efficient, but we had to monitor all energy use, even daily consumption such as making a cup of tea or taking a shower.

What I like with this project is that we can show our technology to all our partners, all the politicians, all the media. You can see it and feel it, it’s real. It’s much better than a presentation. When you have a specialist in hydrogen who does a presentation you see beautiful pictures but you imagine it happening in 2050. But no, this technology is ready now.

We need politicians, industry and the financial sector to move on this. There’s always a reason to wait because it’s very easy to use fossil fuels as energy, but it’s not a solution. You can feel them, you can hear them. This boat is magic when you sail. There’s no noise, no CO2, no fine particles, no smell. It is possible. This boat is an example and I am very happy that when I look back at the places I have been, I see new projects starting.

Two hundred years ago we used wood, then coal, then petrol, then natural gas. And the quantity of carbon decreases for each type. The last stage therefore is hydrogen because there is no carbon molecule in hydrogen. We have to continue progress to find the right solution.

1979 • Born in Saint-Malo on 25 June
1999 • Won the title of European Youth Champion in Hobie 16 catamaran sailing
2004 • Worked as official on a merchant ship expedition in Antarctica
2006 • Finished third in the Route du Rhum sailing race
2013 • Secured funding for Energy Observer
2017 • Beginning of the Energy Observer expedition
2018 • Was appointed as the first French ambassador of the Sustainable Development Goals by the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition

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