With the extravagance and excess that constitutes a superyacht, it is seldom held as a volunteer for sustainability or environment conservation. However, recent times have seen significant initiatives from building superyachts with composite material to using hybrid engines – the yachting industry is going sustainable!
The burning of fossil fuels for yachting has been a significant contributor to the pollution of the oceans, disrupting marine life and causing ecological problems. However, shipyards and yacht designers have undertaken great and trim initiatives to pivot the yachting industry towards sustainable and environmentally friendly alternatives over the last five years. A published report by US-based Boat International in 2019 stated a decrease to 807 in demand for yachts over 24 meters from 830 in the last year. There were only 21 megayachts of over 100 meters under construction. While the statistics seem to be nominal on face value, the market for superyachts is niche and only for the creamy layer. Hybrid engine systems are no longer a trend; designers are experimenting with complete solar-powered systems to kite sails to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels – and this is just the tip of the iceberg!
A Rude Awakening
Hybrid or electric boats haven’t been a recent discovery. Did you know the first electric boat was developed by the German inventor Moritz von Jacobi in 1838? The electric yacht was a 24ft (7.3m) boat and a passenger capacity of 14. With a speed of three miles per hour (4.8km/h), the yacht was presented to Emperor Nicholas I of Russia on the Neva River. The introduction of diesel and petrol-only eased the production and storage cost. However, given the rising levels of CO2, nitric-oxide emissions—a major polluter—from vessels 78 feet or longer, and more than one million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals killed by ocean pollution every year, has led superyacht designers from all around the world to bring about a collision of luxury and sustainability. With the right combination of hybrid systems, yachts could reduce fuel consumption by up to 30 percent while improving maneuverability and reducing noise pollution while cruising.
The Changing Heart
Netherland-based shipyard Feadship has aimed for a 50% reduction by 2050 and transitioning to hybrid or electric engine systems by 2025 – thus attaining zero emissions. “Diesel-electric and hybrid propulsion, in combination with battery packs, are the best options with the most powerful combination of sustainability and luxury, due to the silent running capability of these systems,” said Bram Jongepier, senior specialist at Feadship, in an interview. Feadship’s 83m Savannah is the first superyacht to use eco-friendly hybrid propulsion. Its engine system included propellers and azimuthing thrusters for power, electric motors and diesel engines for the drive, and gensets and batteries for energy storage.
Similarly, Oceanco, a Dutch shipyard, aims to use 100% renewable energy for its electricity usage and be 100% waste-free or circular across the entire supply change by 2030. The shipyard has already begun installing renewable energy systems – Alblasserdam, one of Oceanco’s systems, currently generates 250,000kWh per year of renewable energy. Shipyards and yacht designers have also switched to using material innovations, like using carbon fiber or aluminum instead of steel, thus reducing the weight and enhancing efficiency and speed. Oceanco’s 2016 Black Pearl is the world’s largest DynaRig sailing yacht. The 106 meters superyachts have three DynaRig masts supporting a sail area of 2,900 square meters (31,215 sq ft). The hull of the superyacht is made from steel, the superstructure aluminum, and the masts carbon fiber. As a result, the superyacht can cross the Atlantic Ocean using only 20 liters of fuel! “In normal sailing mode, the propellers are set to minimize drag and prevent the shafts from turning, but when we want to harvest some of that kinetic energy to be stored and used onboard, the pitch of the propellers is altered to create a lifting force as the water passes over them,” said Marcel Onkenhout, CEO of Oceanco, in an interview. The superyacht also features a cinema, Jacuzzi, full-beam beach club, tender garage, and beautiful guest cabins. Heesen, another Dutch shipyard, has invested in designing faster, more efficient hulls, including the 5000 Aluminium Class on its new Aquamarine project, in meeting the regulations.
As the yacht industry depends heavily on the health of the oceans, several major shipyards worldwide – like Benetti, Heesen, Lürssen, and Feadship have come initiated a Non-Profit Organisation, Water-Revolution Foundation (WRF). WRF’s primary goal is to create a scientific-driven approach towards yacht-building. WRF has recently introduced Yacht Tool Assessment – software that supports designers to make effective, sustainable choices. Yacht Assessment Tool takes into consideration the unique type of vessel that superyachts are, and carries out a full life cycle assessment and calculates the environmental impact using the ten most critical environmental indicators: global warming, ozone layer depletion, photochemical oxidation, eutrophication, acidification, NOx, SOx, PM10, water scarcity footprint, and eco point. Apart from that, the organization actively works to create a database for sustainable solutions and educational programs that make sustainability accessible.
Sustainability with Luxury
Superyachts are superyachts for a reason – their grandeur. From heated pools to dance floors, from lavish master suites to spacious dining areas, the number of resources required for the centralized air conditioning and other amenities also contribute to the equation. Hence, besides shipyards and yacht designers, superyacht owners are seeking to go green. From incorporating solar power panels to generate the required amount of electricity to create retractable swimming pools, a lot is going on in the world of innovative design. Crescere, a 132-meter megayacht by U.S based yacht designer David Weiss encourages greener technologies. The superyacht features a built-in retractable saltwater swimming pool. In addition, the swimming pool can be transformed into a helipad when not in use. “Not designed purely as a “party boat”, the space allocation instead follows a dual-use owner vision of “Rest + ReCreate”, with all interior social “ReCreate” spaces localized inside the naturally lit and openable Greenhouse, and Rest spaces in the surrounding darker, quieter “cocoon” areas.”, said designer J. David Weiss.
Along with manufacturing sustainable superstructures, companies have brought the sustainability approach to their homes. For example, Feadship’s facility in Amsterdam is also designed with eco-friendly features, including more than 2,000 solar panels, LED lighting, a three-tier ventilation system, and the innovative use of district heating, which harnesses excess energy from nearby factories. Similarly, Ferretti Group’s plant at its Ancona, Italy, facility has added solar panels to cut electricity use by up to 79 percent.
It’s wonderful to see companies and shipyards working together to create a better future and sustain the magnificent views and sea experience in 3021 as well.