Making waves

A boat powered by hydrogen

In the latest piece in our “My Positive Future” series, we speak to Matthieu de Gennaro, whose team created a boat powered by hydrogen and solar power to compete in the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge.

Yachts lie at anchor, bobbing gently on the sparkling Mediterranean while seagulls glide through the cloudless sky.

But wait. A strange boat is approaching. Although it slices easily through the waves, there is something unusual here – it has no sail, no oars, not even a petrol motor. This is a boat from the future. This is SOGREEN.

When Matthieu De Gennaro, project manager in the research and innovation (R&I) unit of Capgemini Engineering, was given the chance to enter the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge, he leapt at the opportunity.

Sailing into history

“This event has been held by the Yacht Club de Monaco since 2014 to promote innovation in clean energy, in particular hydrogen,” explains Matthieu. “For us, it was the perfect way to demonstrate our capabilities as a company and to develop a hydrogen propulsion system for our energy and naval business units.”

Participating teams are given a small catamaran boat as a base, but from there, the rest is up to them. “Each team must design a propulsion and control system that runs on clean energy, so that the boat can be piloted through a series of competitive events, including a sprint, slalom and marathon,” says Matthieu.

Green innovation

Matthieu and his team designed a hybrid electric-hydrogen drivetrain to power the vessel, named SOGREEN. In doing so they drew on talent from different divisions: energy, aeronautics, digital, and automotive. “A project like this calls for a multidisciplinary approach,” he says. “The frame of the boat requires mechanical expertise, whereas the power, control, and fuel cell management involve complex electrical understanding. We also employed advanced digital skills to develop the human machine interface (HMI) and a digital twin, which is a real-time digital counterpart of the boat.”

According to Matthieu, a digital twin helps an operator spot problems before they occur, and, with the use of artificial intelligence, allows the energy performance of the power system to be optimized, which is crucial from a sustainability point of view.

Rapid design and delivery

“We only had six months to design and develop the system,” explains Matthieu. “Issues around the pandemic extended the supply times even more, and we had to rely on teleworking during the testing phase.”

Having said that, the Capgemini boat placed third in its category out of eight competitors, a result Matthieu is very pleased with. “I’m extremely proud of our performance considering it was the first time we’d participated. Also, we were one of only two teams to finish the 30km marathon event, which says a lot about the quality of our design.”

A winning team

“We knew this would be an attractive challenge for younger people,” says Matthieu. “So we brought four trainees on board to work with us on the project, two of whom have now been hired by us. We also drew on the skills of 30 people from the R&I unit and two electrical engineering specialists.”

According to Matthieu, everyone involved gained valuable experience from the event. “We were driven to create the best possible system, which is the whole point of the competition. It gave the trainees a sense of what can be achieved working with Capgemini in the interests of planet Earth.”

Alternative fuel sources

Matthieu sees the project as a contributor to the global push towards sustainability. “The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) made it clear that we have to take urgent action today. An essential aspect of this is to develop alternative sources of energy and hydrogen has enormous promise in terms of helping industrial economies to decarbonize their transport systems.”

Far from being a curiosity, therefore, SOGREEN and the technology behind it has a bright future. “The system could be used in ferries and small boats, and because of the flexibility, bikes and some road vehicles too. It’s a platform that will allow us to experiment with a host of new technologies and tools developed within the R&I unit.”

Personal responsibility

Matthieu believes we all have a role to play in reducing the impact of climate change. “It comes from the personal choices we make – for example, reducing our waste at home and recycling more. Also, by embracing teleworking, Capgemini is helping to reduce climate emissions from transport.”

With projects such as SOGREEN, Matthieu and his team have shown we can use technology to create a cleaner, greener world for everyone.

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