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#3 - A Mini Revolution

Electrifying the Vendee Globe 2016

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A bit less than a year ago, a New Zealand skipper based in France met a Finnish technology provider at the METS trade show in Amsterdam. A little more than a year later, this skipper will rely on this technology in the Vendee Globe 2016, the most difficult round-the-world race, while achieving an environmental first.

Courtesy of Conrad Colman

Courtesy of Conrad Colman

This is the story of Conrad Colman. The Kiwi skipper intends to be the first to race in the Vendee Globe without using fossil fuel. To achieve this milestone, he will rely on Oceanvolt’s electric motor and energy management systems.

We interviewed Christian Hallberg, commercial director at Oceanvolt, to better understand this challenge.

NauticExpo e-Magazine: How does Conrad Colman intend to go around the world without using fuel?

Christian Hallberg: The whole idea behind Conrad’s ambition is to use the electric motor as a hydrogenerator, too. That way, he doesn’t have to put more drag on his boat and he can feed his boat with energy, without requiring fuel. He also installed solar panels.

He will carry some fuel, but only for emergencies.

One Hour to Charge the Battery

NauticExpo: The battery is a key element in electrical systems. Can you tell us something about this one?

Christian Hallberg: You just need one hour to fully charge this 8 kW battery pack. And since Conrad will make sure his battery never gets fully discharged, full charge will require even less time.

He installed the battery in the same compartment as the diesel engine. It weighs 160 kg, but at the same time he is saving [the weight of] 300 to 400 liters of fuel.

NauticExpo: Electric motors are often expensive. What is the cost of this installation?

Christian Hallberg: That’s true from an investment perspective. The motor costs more or less the same as a diesel engine. When you add the cost of the battery, it doubles the investment.

That said, in terms of lifecycle, it’s a completely different story. The lifetime of a battery is 10 years, while electric motors can last 30 years. Plus, you don’t need any servicing. For example, there’s no need for winterizing, as there is no water or glycol inside.

Courtesy of Oceanvolt

Courtesy of Oceanvolt

NauticExpo: Did you need to develop specific technology for this kind of race?

Christian Hallberg: Not really. What’s installed on Conrad Colman’s boat is a standard package. You could have the same system in any boat 40 feet or larger. The motor is a standard SD15. We use a standard folding propeller.


NauticExpo: This is the first time such a system will be used in a Vendee Globe. How can you be sure it will work?

Christian Hallberg: In fact, we initially developed the system for the 2016 Vendee Globe with another French team, which I can’t mention. That’s how we started working on passing the IMOCA 60 rule tests. The first one was a bollard pull test. The engine needed to create a bollard pull of 280 tons for 15 minutes. We thought this was going to be really tight for us, but we achieved it.

The second one requires the boat to run at a specific speed for 5 hours. That put stress on the batteries, but again the test went well.

NauticExpo: One of the most interesting features of Oceanvolt is its Remote Service Interface (RSI), a remote diagnostic tool. Will it be used during the race?

Christian Hallberg: Yes, but as a monitoring tool. The race committee needs to make sure the skipper is not using the motor when he’s not supposed to. With a diesel engine, it’s easy. You just put a seal on it [The engine can be run in neutral to recharge batteries, Ed]. With our technology, you need to log everything. That’s how RSI will be used.

This continuous monitoring will also be extremely helpful for us. The Vendee Globe is a fantastic test bench for us. We spent a lot of time ensuring that Conrad Colman will have power, and backup power. Once he finishes the race, we will have a lot of data to analyze about high-speed recharging.

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