‘Crossing the Atlantic with no fuel:’ Can superyachts really go green?

Story highlights

Greater demand for greener superyachts, analysts say

Technical challenges in making vessels greener

Superyachts traditionally considered gas guzzlers

CNN  — 

A huge, triple-masted leviathan, Black Pearl is the largest sailing superyacht in the world – as well as one of the most stylish.

Completed in 2018, it is reported to include luxurious accommodation for 12 people, plus a full beam beach club that is convertible into a cinema.

Yet it’s the 106.7-meter (350 feet) yacht’s environmental and architectural features that have drawn plaudits and industry awards in recent months.

Oceanco, the Dutch shipyard that built the Black Pearl, says it can cross the Atlantic without using any fuel.

While its main propulsion system is a diesel-electric hybrid, its three giant sails can be set in just seven minutes at the push of a button.

Once it is sailing, electricity is generated by the yacht’s spinning propellers as it slices through the water. This energy is stored in batteries and used to power other on-board features including the galley, laundry, jacuzzi, lighting, air conditioning, and other sparkly gadgets. The yacht also features an advanced waste heat recovery system, while the company aims to develop solar sails in the future.

“Our relationship and cooperation with the owner and his representatives proved invaluable,” Oceanco project manager Hans Boerakker said in a January press release.

“After all, Black Pearl completely reflects the owner’s dream and his vision. We were fortunate enough to be the builders of his dream.”

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The Black Pearl at sea.

‘Less of an impact’

Industry analysts say the development of the Black Pearl reflects a growing demand for large yachts to be greener and more environmentally friendly.

Increasingly, owners are looking for “something that creates less of an impact than the standard superyacht,” says Georgia Boscawen, fleet and design editor at the Superyacht Group, a UK-based publication and industry intelligence firm.

Doing so will theoretically not only help the environment but also reduce on fuel and operating costs.

Other mega-vessels designed to reduce fuel consumption in recent years include the 83.5m (273 feet) Savannah, reported to be the first diesel-electric hybrid super yacht with a number of engine modes including fully electric from its banks of lithium-ion batteries.

Meanwhile, Russian billionaire Andrey Melnichenko’s Sailing Yacht A – described as a sail-assisted motor yacht – also draws power from hybrid sources.

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Sailing Yacht A is owned by Russian tycoon Andrey Melnichenko.

Making gains

Solid green credentials, however, are not something the commonly associated with superyachts.

Such vessels are generally energy intensive, both to build – in terms of materials and carbon footprint – and to propel.

Azzam, a huge motor yacht owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, has a one million liter fuel capacity, according to Yacht Charter Fleet.

Power also has to be generated for a variety of opulent extras, with some of the biggest yachts including lifts, swimming pools, cinemas and health spas – some even carry submersibles and other extravagant toys.

Still, experts say there are many ways to make luxury yachts greener.

The shape of the hull and coating can make a considerable difference in driving energy efficiency, wrote Martin Richter, a yacht industry specialist at DNV GL Maritime, late last year. Greener power options including liquefied natural gas are also being developed, says Richter.

“There are currently more than 250 all-electric or hybrid vessels either in operation or under construction, but what is really impressive about that number is that it has grown from practically zero over the last five years,” he adds.

Vessels that “make their own hydrogen … and never use diesel” will be developed in the next few years, says Derek Munro of Divergent Yachting and representative of the unnamed owner of the Black Pearl.

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The Azzam superyacht.

Other design factors such as the use of materials to insulate yachts as well as how waste water is recycled can also impact overall efficiency. Diesel generators, which would traditionally run all day and night, are increasingly being used to charge batteries that can then take over powering vessels during the night hours, saving on emissions, fuel costs and noise pollution, Munro adds.

‘The right thing to do’

Outside of owner and buyer demand, efforts are also being made within the superyacht world to encourage new best practices.

A group of prominent industry professionals have combined to set up the Water Revolution Foundation (WRF), which seeks to encourage greater sustainability across the supply chain.

Robert van Tol, executive director of the WRF, told CNN that the superyacht industry is sensitive to the desires of its customers – but stresses being environmentally responsible is simply the right thing to do.

He highlights the possibility of new technologies being discovered by deep-pocketed owners which can then be shared with the wider marine world.

It’s a worthwhile trade-off, given the maritime industry accounts for more than two percent of global carbon emissions, according to the most recent figures from the International Maritime Organization.

Van Tol points to an innovative battery system that was created for the sailing yacht Ethereal in 2009, which is now being used widely on other vessels.

New green boats to hit the water more recently include the world’s first hydrogen-powered Energy Observer and a series of solar catamarans designed by Swiss firm, Silent Yachts.

‘Genuine desires’

Despite these developments, many cynics will maintain that those wealthy enough to own superyachts are likely to be huge carbon emitters no matter how green their sailing arrangements.

Some may even have made their billions in fossil fuels – the owner of the Black Pearl is reported to be Oleg Burlakov, co founder of the Burneftegaz oil and gas company, although Munro wouldn’t confirm this.

Boscawen, however, sees the positives in the industry’s shift towards green technologies. She also believes that most superyacht owners have a genuine desire to reduce their impact on the oceans.

If they didn’t, “they would just get a boat regardless” of its environmental impact, she says.