Last week, Emirates Team New Zealand took its new hydrogen-powered foiling catamaran out on Waitematā Harbour in Auckland for the first time. The America’s Cup sailing team developed the Chase Zero prototype chase boat as a part of its efforts to reduce the team’s carbon emissions. Emirates Team New Zealand will use a final version of the Chase Zero in its next defence of the America’s Cup in 2024.
Chase boats are part pit crew and part emergency response team. These motorboats follow the racing yachts during races and are the first to respond if there is a crash, capsize or mechanical failure. The chase boats are also used to service the yachts between each race during the day, as well as tow the team’s race boat from and to shore at the start and end of each day’s session.
As America’s Cup yachts have gotten faster and faster over the past decade with the introduction and further development of hydrofoils, the performance capabilities required of chase boats have also increased in hand. During the 2021 America’s Cup, the foiling monohull yachts used in the match races and preliminary regatta reached speeds up to 53 knots (97 km/h). During the event, Emirates Team New Zealand’s primary chase boat was a 13.72 m catamaran powered by four 300-horsepower V6 Yamaha outboard motors.
The Chase Zero is able to meet the same performance requirements with hydrogen power. The prototype motorboat is fitted with two 220-kilowatt (295 hp) electric motors. To compensate for the over 50 per cent deficit in power relative to the previous chase boat, the Chase Zero utilises hydrofoils like the boat it chases to fly over the water’s surface, reducing drag and increasing efficiency.
The electricity for the motors is fed from two 80-kilowatt (107 hp) Toyota hydrogen fuel cells. The Chase Zero carries four 8-kilogram (17.2 lb) hydrogen tanks pressurised to 350 bar (5,076 psi) to supply the fuel cells. While the fuel cells provide enough power in most circumstances, the chase boat also has two 42-kilowatt-hour batteries to supplement the cells to use the full potential of the electric motors and reach a top speed of 50 knots (93 km/h).
Michael Rasmussen, an electrical engineer on the project, stated, “The battery is also used to achieve the higher speeds. The boat can cruise at approximately 30kts with the 160kW generated from the fuel cells, but to achieve the higher end speeds up towards 50 knots we are able to draw from the batteries as well to bump this up to around 420kW for shorter periods. The fuel cell will then re-charge the batteries once there is excess power available again.”
It seems incredible that Emirates Team New Zealand was able to develop a sustainable hydrogen-electric alternative to a 1,200-horsepower motorboat without a loss in on-the-water capabilities. The team sees the Chase Zero as a significant step in reducing the organisation’s emissions and as a positive influence on the entire marine industry.