We, the Solar Boat Twente team, are a group of passionate young students who are all very much committed to having a positive impact on society throughout our careers. Whether still studying, taking a year in between studying, or just graduated, we all decided to take on a challenge this year. But why, and with what goals? Of course, we are building a solar boat and will race it against other teams, competing for victory. But that is not all. This year is also a lot about learning beyond our studies. Working together and growing as a team and individually, on both a professional and personal level. Supported by and working with our partners, we aim to exhibit innovative solutions throughout the boat-building process and show possibilities for a sustainable maritime sector. We are also consciously sharing the stories of our journey with the world, striving to inspire and drive the maritime industry to become sustainable. In this way, having the positive impact on society we all ultimately pursue.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about our motivation and goals for this year.
The world undergoes natural cycles of glacial and interglacial (warm) periods. These alternate at timescales of 100 000s of years. In the last 50 years, global temperatures increased significantly more than can be attributed to these natural cycles. This coincides with a steep increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere due to human activities.
Carbon dioxide concentration is one of the main determinants for the greenhouse effect. Its presence in our atmosphere creates a mantel which causes the air underneath to maintain a higher temperature than outer space. Without it, the temperature on earth would have been too cold to support life. However, the concentrations currently present cause an enhanced greenhouse effect. Now, the mantle of (amongst others) carbon dioxide, has become so dense that the temperature on earth started to increase. Moreover, because of the human-induced nature of these increased carbon dioxide concentrations, this occurs far quicker than it naturally would. As a result, the livelihood of people around the world is under pressure, at places already threatening their survival; wildlife, natural habitats and the diversity of species worldwide are deteriorating fast.
Some of these changes can no longer be reverted. But this does not mean it is too late to change the impact and effect human activities have on the greenhouse effect. However, while a sufficient set of technologies that can fulfil current demands sustainably does not yet exist, it is crucial to realise that we must pursue all incremental improvements right now.
As Solar Boat Twente, we want to lead a movement towards a sustainable future through innovations. And in this way contribute to halting and ultimately completely eliminating the excessive production of greenhouse gasses.
solar boat twente
We, the Solar Boat Twente team, are focussed on creating an efficient solar-powered boat. You might wonder how this contributes to our aims of leading a movement towards sustainability? Well, first some illustrative facts. Maritime transport alone is responsible for approximately 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, contrary to what you would expect, ships were found to be (on average) less fuel-efficient in 2013 than they were in the 1990s. Moreover, while other sectors are successfully reducing their carbon emissions, it is estimated that the maritime sector can account for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. Our conclusion: the maritime sector really needs to step up its efforts to decrease its contribution to global greenhouse gas production.
We realise that developments on a solar boat like ours will not find its way to the massive, and massively polluting, containerships by next year. Nonetheless, they are applicable for smaller leisure boats and can be a basis for innovations on larger ships. Moreover, our impact extends beyond our own innovation. We ask for technologically challenging products from our partners, in this way pushing them to also be innovative. Additionally, we aim to reach a general audience, raising awareness about the challenges and possibilities for a sustainable maritime sector. By showing the potential and viability of technological advancement, we ultimately aim to inspire individuals and companies; supporting and accelerating their ambitions to develop sustainable products for the maritime sector.
Our long-term goals are:
- Developing innovative technology and solutions for our solar boat;
- Stimulating companies to innovate and develop sustainable products;
- Show the world, starting with the people in our direct environment, our partners, and sponsors, the potential of innovations in sustainable transport;
- Reduce our environmental impact to net zero.
Goals for 2020/2021
Our boat uses the energy in the light emitted by the sun as its source of power, by converting it into electricity in its solar panels. The amount of energy that can be captured is limited to the area and efficiency of these solar panels. In turn, the available energy limits how fast and far we can sail. As we are keeping the solar panel set-up from last year, we can only gain improvements “downstream” of the electricity generation. The whole drive train must thus use the available electrical power as efficiently as possible. At first, one might think that this should be achieved by just using more efficient converters, motors, and propellers. However, our solar boat is designed to be a foiling vessel. This means that a set of hydrofoils (comparable to wings on an aeroplane) mounted to struts attached underneath the boat lifts the hull out of the water, substantially reducing the drag. So, even though a more efficient powertrain is definitely beneficial, most progress can be made by getting the boat to fly stably.
The use of hydrofoils is not new and dates back to 1906 when an Italian inventor used them to reach a top speed of 68km/h with a 60-horsepower engine. His system used a ladder-type hydrofoil, which can stabilise automatically since the further you go out of the water, the less lift you create. Our boat, on the other hand, uses electrical actuation to alter the angle of each foil independently to change its lift-characteristics. The benefits over the ladder-type are low weight, high efficiency and versatility. It does require accurate sensing of the boat’s orientation relative to the water, and the implementation of a robust and low latency control system. So far, we have not yet managed to get the boat flying consistently and reliably. Which is why we this year particularly focus on sensing the boat’s orientation and the hydrofoil control system.
Our second technical point of focus this year is cooling the battery and the motor controller. In our solar boat, the battery, the motor and its controller are, quite obvious, three vital components. A lot of electrical power goes through these components to be converted in mechanical power that spins the propeller and drives the boat. They are already optimised for efficiency, but will never be 100% efficient, generating heat as a by-product. In the case of the battery, overheating can cause permanent damage to the cells, reducing their performance. We need to get rid of this heat to maintain efficiency and reliability. The previous two generations of Solar Boat Twente decided to mount the motor in a nacelle, in the water. The system they developed makes that the entire motor is water-cooled. This passive cooling system has the advantage that we don’t need to add extra weight, nor use some of the limited available electrical power to keep the motor cool. Now, we aim to take this one step further and develop an adequate cooling system for both the battery and the motor controller. We are currently still researching, in collaboration with some of our partners, what motor controller and cooling system would work best. Even though the exact implementation has not yet been chosen, it will most likely be an active liquid cooling system.
Our communications team aims to spread awareness of our goals and achievements by means of posts on various social media accounts, newsletters, stunts, and events. We will also continue the collaboration between Young Solar Boat Twente and Solar Boat Twente, which started last year. Young Solar Boat Twente consists of around 10 high school students from ‘Het Stedelijk Lyceum Kottenpark’. By collaborating with them, we create awareness and interest in sustainability and sustainable technology at a young age. Their V20 solar boat will compete in the Young Solar Challenge!
This year is even more challenging than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as of now the plans to compete in the series of events organised by Solar Sport One, the Dutch championship and the pinnacle of solar boat racing, the Monaco Solar & Energy Boat Challenge, still stand. (See Races for more information.)
The previous Solar Boat Twente teams performed well in these competitions. Still, they did not yet succeed in creating a stable and robust control system – which is required to really compete amongst the top teams. Not completely starting from scratch this year makes that we can invest heavily in achieving this (see Technological section). Ultimately aiming for a podium place at the world championship in Monaco.
How you can contribute towards a sustainable future
Yes, we also need you! Spread the word and try to change whatever you can yourself. Every time you make a small choice, go for the more sustainable option. Also, if you buy a car, look into hybrid or electrical alternatives. Consider placing solar panels on your house’s roof and minimise travelling by aeroplane.
Given all our societal aspirations, we feel it is important to not neglect our own negative environmental impact. We really want to lead by example. Which is why we always review if our actions outweigh the resulting environmental costs. But we cannot do this alone. To realise our vision, we are continuously looking for assistance and partners who want to join us on our journey. So, did any of this catch your interest? Wait no longer and contact us! On Partners, you can see who already went before you.