“Producing hydrogen on demand is what makes our marine solution quite unique”

Across the globe, the growth of leisure boating – 87% of which is motorised – has an increasing impact on very fragile flora and fauna, in both freshwater and seawater habitats. The necessity of overcoming these obstacles is what gave birth to the first sustainable nautical ecosystem in the world. This ecosystem includes zero-emission hydrogen-powered boats, the production of green hydrogen directly on site for refuelling, and exclusive services for a global community of motorboat enthusiasts committed to eco-responsibility. Chloé Zaied, General Manager of Ephyra, tells JEC Composites Magazine more about this unique full-service ecosystem solution. This interview has been published in the JEC Composites Magazine N°150.

“Producing hydrogen on demand is what makes our marine solution quite unique”

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JEC Composites Magazine: What is the basic observation that was at the origin of the Ephyra adventure?
Chloé Zaied: Hynova Yachts launched its demonstrator in September 2020, presented it to the public in May and June 2021 through a special event that ran from Marseilles to Monaco over eight weeks. Over the course of this ‘sea show’, we stopped at eight locations along the French Riviera, from Cassis and La Ciotat to Saint-Tropez, Cannes and Nice. The New Era, the name given to this demonstrator, went on to win the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge Open Sea Class competition in mid- July the same year. And then The New Era was introduced to the world of yachting at the Cannes and Monaco yacht show that September. It was met with great praise, and raised a lot of interest from potential customers. But then we faced a brick wall… because the development of hydrogen refuelling infrastructures is simply non-existent or very slow to develop. This is especially true around the Mediterranean, where most clients enjoy yachting. But we could not answer a simple question from our prospective clients, namely: Where do I refuel? This is where Ephyra came in the picture. It is a little bit like the Tesla business model, in which we realised that we needed to invest in the entire ecosystem if we aimed to be a game changer. We would therefore have to propose a comprehensive package that would integrate the supply of hydrogen into the mix. The difference with Tesla is that Ephyra produces its own fuel supply, whereas Tesla must rely on the grid to get electricity.

JEC Composites Magazine: With Ephyra, you offer a full solution that makes it possible to significantly decarbonise leisure boating. Tell us more about this ambitious ecosystem. Which clientele is it intended for?
Chloé Zaied: Whether it is ambitious is not for us to say. The one thing we know is that it is the only solution that’s realistic and will actually enable the decarbonisation of recreational boating. Of course, electric boats are already available on the market, but most of them have a rather limited range, due to heavy batteries that quickly need to be recharged —propelling a boat does require quite a lot. It’s a little like heavy duty mobility: electric vehicles are good enough for short trips, with slow charging at home; they are not fit for purpose for long distances, however, or applications where long range and high power are needed. This is where hydrogen comes into play. Besides, unlike when charging from the grid, our solution does not rely on electricity that may have been generated from all sorts of fossil fuels. In some cases, it is a nonsensical system for example in Germany, where most of the electricity is made from burning coal. Even for Tesla. So, at Ephyra, we produce green hydrogen to fuel our boats. This provides a simple answer to a complex issue, since we don’t even have to transport our fuel. If you can have the boat and the fuel, and go boating knowing you will not harm the planet from start to finish (no GHG emissions, no particulate matter, no noise or vibrations and the most ecological fuel available), then why not go for it?

Ephyra allows to switch to hydrogen without compromising on comfort, availability and performances

To give a partial response to the second part of your question: Our clients are Early Adopters, people who can afford to buy into these expensive technologies before they become more affordable. They are conscious of the damage done to the planet when enjoying an outing at sea. It is their contribution to the development of decarbonised solutions for the recreational boating, and more generally, to head for a cleaner world. From a financial standpoint, this is in fact the same process as for actual internal combustion engines (ICE) over a century ago, when only wealthy individuals could afford to replace their horses with cars… but now it’s for clean power solutions.

JEC Composites Magazine: How has your solution been received in the boating world?
Chloé Zaied: It has raised a lot of interest, with many potential sales in various regions across the world, not only in Europe but also in America, the Middle-East and Asia. Now everyone is eager to see the finished products, i.e., both the first boats and stations. We aim to share these with the market by the third quarter of 2023. But orders can be placed as of now, of course!

The stations are modular and can be optimised for each location, they come in two configurations that
can welcome four or eight powerboats

JEC Composites Magazine: What technology have you developed to solve the problem of hydrogen production and supply for Ephyra member pleasurecraft?
Chloé Zaied: We use water electrolysis from ENR and high-pressure compression to refuel carbon fibre tanks directly in our boats. The principles of electrolysis and fuel cells are technologies that have been known for a long time — electrolysis has been around since the mid-19th century, and fuel cells running on hydrogen from the late 1950s. And using renewable energies, especially solar panels, to produce electricity is rather common now. What makes our solution unique is the use of this combination of technologies to produce hydrogen “on demand,” to compress and dispense it directly into our boats. It’s also thanks to software development for both our power management system onboard, production onshore and refuelling in between, that this process is possible.

JEC Composites Magazine: What are the characteristics of the different types of stations that you offer? What services do they provide?
Chloé Zaied: As mentioned above, our stations ‘smart’, meaning that they are connected to the boats and their energy management system. We use data mining to calculate hydrogen production for our stations, according to the current and forecast needs of our boats.

Remote monitoring and proactive maintenance of our systems are an integral part of the process, for client peace of mind. But this is also why this system is considered ‘integrated,’ and designed specifically to suit the needs of our boats.

At this stage we could not, for example, refuel larger vessels with higher demands for hydrogen “fuel,” since our stations are not adapted to such needs. It is not our aim to become refuelling station providers or large-scale hydrogen producers.

This would bring additional complexities in terms of regulatory, technical and even real estate levels. Our primary objective is to meet the needs of our clients, and doing that properly requires that we remain a “niche” service.

Ephyra’s hybrid electro-hydrogen propulsion is optimised to improve both performance and range

JEC Composites Magazine: At what levels are composites used to build your boats, and what advan­tages do they offer?
Chloé Zaied: As you can imagine, with boats, and generally anything that needs power to move, the lighter the better! Reducing weight and drag is the only way to reach good performance without losing efficiency, and lower consumption, whether it’s hydrogen or battery power. Composites are therefore key to achieving these objectives, given their strength and excellent weight to volume to resistance ratios. On our boats, you will find different types of composites. There are ceramic matrix composites using…

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