The Rise of Sustainable Yachting

Emma Reynolds

By Emma Reynolds25 décembre 2020

The yachting industry is making strides to lessen its ecological footprint through new, innovative technologies and launching green initiatives designed to clean our oceans, reduce fuel consumption and help preserve our Earth for future generations.

Benetti FB272 Luminosity (DR)

A sustainable superyacht sounds like somewhat of an oxymoron. Vessels designed for excess typically garner a bad rap when it comes to the environment. However, there has been immeasurable growth over the past five to ten years in the superyacht industry in terms of innovation and technology, as well as stronger demand from buyers and those chartering yachts.

Boat owners are attracted to yachting because of their love for the ocean, and there are few industries with more of a direct impact on our beloved seas. It’s imperative for the entire industry, from shipyards to designers to engineers to charter companies, to work together to preserve the ocean and marine environments and implement sustainable solutions. “Our need to clean up our act is more urgent than it is for more essential industries,” says Bram Jongepier, senior specialist at Feadship, a Netherlands-based shipyard, known for its incredible superyachts including Aquarius, Symphony and Savannah, to name a few.

Benetti Room FB272 LUMINOSITY (DR)

A major awareness

Luckily, there is increasing awareness around the environmental impact of diesel-powered yachts on the atmosphere and ocean, and the industry is responding. By 2030, Oceanco, a Dutch shipyard, hopes to be using 100% renewable energy for its electricity usage and be 100% waste-free or circular across the entire supply change. They’ve already begun installing renewable energy systems in their facilities, and its Alblasserdam facility currently generates 250,000kWh per year of renewable energy, covering nearly the entire electrical energy demand in the building. The end goal is to be one of the world’s most sustainable yacht builders.

Savannah pool (DR)

Nearly every major yacht builder and charter company has committed to protecting the environment by creating philanthropic foundations or partnering with existing organizations doing good. Goals include reducing fuel consumption, promulgating the creation of marine reserves, providing solutions to overfishing, carbon offsetting, eliminating plastic and using materials that focus on the circular economy.

The Yacht Savannah from the Feadship shipyard. The latter is ready to use a hybrid system and to be fully electric by 2025 (DR).

One major nonprofit that has attracted several major shipbuilders (including Benetti, Feadship, Heesen and Lürssen, to name a few), technology companies, design companies and others associated with the yachting industry is Water Revolution Foundation (WRF), whose goal is to create a science-driven approach to yachting and neutralize the industry’s ecological footprint. The organization provides much-needed guidance, assessments and tools for companies looking to make a positive change.

Major innovation in eco-friendly technologies

Across the board, hybrid yachts are becoming more common, and many builders are experimenting with energy propulsion that requires zero fossil fuels, including solar power, kite sails and converters that instantly create renewable electric energy. There are also material innovations, like using carbon fiber or aluminum instead of steel, which saves fuel due to decreased weight. Feadship’s mission is to use only hybrid power or be fully electric by 2025, a goal that feels more realistic when taking into account the technology that currently exists. “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,” says Jongepier. “An aluminium hull, saving a massive amount of weight, is a good second. These come together with all the measures we include in our standard execution, like eco-modes on the AC system, smart centralized switching for unoccupied spaces, heat recovery from the generators and black and bilge water treatment systems exceeding MarPol requirements. We often provide proposals for more exotic systems like kite power, hydrogen fuel cells, solar panels and so on.”

The Black Pearl, the largest DynaRig sailboat ever built in the world. It can cross the Atlantic without burning a drop of fossil fuel (Tom van Oossanen)

Oceanco, for example, has delivered divers yachts with several green features. In 2017, the company delivered the 106.7-meter Black Pearl, the largest-ever DynaRig sailing yacht in the world. The three-masted vessel features technology that allows her to cross the Atlantic Ocean without burning a single drop of fossil fuel. Her hybrid propulsion system has two shaft lines with controllable pitch propellers, which helps to minimize drag. She also has the ability to regenerate power by utilizing her 2,877-square-meter sailing area. “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 on board, the pitch of the propellers is altered to create a lifting force as the water passes over them,” says Marcel Onkenhout, CEO of Oceanco, a Dutch shipyard specializing in custom yachts up to 140 meters. “This rotates the shafts, which are connected to a permanent magnet electric propulsion motor (EPM), effectively converting the wind energy that is moving Black Pearl through the water into electrical energy.” The intention of Black Pearl was to showcase the potential for larger DynaRig vessels, all while incorporating the luxury features yacht owners seek, including a cinema, Jacuzzi, full-beam beach club, tender garage and beautiful guest cabins.

Another yacht turning heads is Italian shipbuilder Benetti’s B.Yond 37-meter Siemens Siship EcoProp, an explorer superyacht with five decks, four cabins and stunning interiors. She has an asking price of €17.8 million and will be delivered in August 2021. She covers 5,000 nautical miles without the need to refuel thanks to the two 1,400hp MAN diesel engines. Owners can choose to have traditional diesel engines or a hybrid propulsion system instead.

Benetti’s B.Yond 37-meter Siemens Siship EcoProp, an explorer superyacht with five decks, four cabins and stunning interiorss. She covers 5,000 nautical miles without the need to refuel thanks to the two 1,400hp MAN diesel engines (DR)

It’s not just new builds. Shipyards can modify and refit existing yachts to conform to more sustainable, eco-friendly standards, like refitting the AC systems, installing battery banks or installing new engines or generators to reduce fuel consumption. There are also bio fuels, like GTL and HVO, that offer CO2 reductions.

The challenge of sustainability on the high seas

Embracing change must be accepted by the industry as a whole, from the supply chain to the customer, to provide solutions. “Every company that contributes to the creation and ongoing operation of yachts can play a part by reflecting on the materials they use, using renewable energy where possible, considering their commitment to the circular economy and reducing waste,” says Onkenhout. Much of the responsibility falls on the shipbuilder’s shoulders to source partners with a similar mission of creating a beautifully designed yacht with a low environmental impact. The choice of materials is important, as is everything from the type of paints used to the heaviness of materials on board to circular furniture and decor. “When we think of a green yacht, we have to consider it through its complete life cycle and that is why we have a long-term strategy to ensure that many parts of the yachts produced can be easily dismantled and recycled when taken out of service,” Benetti says.

B.Yond 37M veranda (DR)

Several government edicts are also implementing tighter emissions laws in certain ports in Europe and North America. There are zones that limit emissions, like sulfur. Mandates have also been put in place for shipbuilders to reduce nitric-oxide emissions, a major polluter from large vessels. While organizations, like the International Maritime Organization (IMO), have been working to prevent pollution and regulate ships to be greener, there is still a lot to accomplish.

“When you want to make major improvements in sustainability, you need to be open to accepting different — and sometimes challenging — parameters, leaving behind supposed conventions about what is desirable or necessary on a yacht,” Onkenhout says. “If we put our assumptions aside then we can make great advances when it comes to improving the sustainability of yachts’ operations.” It’s wonderful to see the industry working together, but total sustainability is still a ways away.

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