Fans of electric boats and wind-powered boats got an eyeful of both this weekend, as the Mubadala United States Sail Grand Prix SailGP race unspooled around San Francisco Bay on March 26 and 27. The race is normally limited to sail power only, but for the first time it featured an electric boat, pulling duty as a chase craft. That must be some special boat to keep up with those SailGP thoroughbreds, right?
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A Flying Electric Boat To Chase Wind-Powered Boats
In a word, yes. It is some special boat. CleanTechnica has been tracking the goings-on over at the Swedish electric boat firm Candela for the past couple of years, and the company is very pumped about qualifying its Candela C-7 hydrofoil to follow the race out in the water as part of France’s SailGP team.
The idea is to give media and visitors a closer look at the action. While the chase boats aren’t expected to keep up nearly the same pace as the racers, they do need some performance chops. The 8 catamarans featured in the San Francisco race are sleek 50-foot monsters that can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
“Just like the F50’s, the Candela is built from 100% carbon fiber and uses hydrofoils to lift the hull above the water’s friction to attain high speeds. The hydrofoils also give the C-7 longer range than any other conventional electric craft, allowing Candela C-7 to cruise for close to 2 hours at 30 mph, more than enough to cover the racecourse,” Candela explains.
Candela’s engineering is based around a computer management system the company compares to fighter jet flight controls.
“The computers regulate the C-7’s main hydrofoil 100 times per second, much faster than any human could react,” Candela notes.”The result is an artificially stable and smooth ride, not quite the adrenaline rush of the F50’s, but also absent from the spectacular crashes Sail GP is notorious for.”
Bruno Dubois, Team Manager of France SailGP Team, echoed the sentiment. “It’s the best way to give our guests, VIPs and media an experience that is the closest to what our sailors live on board an F50: sailing at 30 knots on a boat that flies on the water,” he said.
The Electric Boat Secret Weapon
This year’s SailGP season will include an Impact League with its own leaderboard, aimed at showcasing sustainability. The Impact League rewards overall sustainability, which would include emissions from a chase boat among other operations. Candela anticipates that its carbon free ride will help score points for the French team.
After Saturday’s sail, the standings stood at France not-in-the-lead for speed, so the zero emission C-7 could be the team’s secret weapon once the Impact League points are totaled up.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to get your hands on a C-7, you might also want to check out the new C-8, which is expected to go into delivery mode later this year.
For those among us without the means or desire to own a boat, Candela also has a flying electric ferry in the works. The initial launch is expected in Stockholm sometime next year. If all goes according to plan, in the years to come thousands of non-boat owners will get a taste of the high speed hydrofoil experience.
US Navy Is Interested In Electric Boats, Eventually
A revival of the hydrofoil could be in the works for the US Navy, which has been experimenting with the idea of flying watercraft since the early 20th century. The Navy eventually assembled a fleet of hydrofoils, but apparently lost interest by the 21st century. In 2019 a hydrofoil appeared briefly in a Navy recruitment video, raising hopes among hydrofoil fans, but no word has leaked out since then. If you’ve heard anything, drop up a note in the comment thread.
As for other battery-electric boats for military operations, the Department of the Navy’s “Green Strike Group” showcased low carbon technology and alternative fuels when it launched in 2012, followed by the launch of the all-electric USS Zumwalt guided missile destroyer in 2013.
After that, the interest waned. The original plan was for an initial run of 32 Zumwalt-class destroyers, but cost overruns chipped away at the program. As of this writing, the third and final electric boat in that class, the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, is undergoing finishing touches and will report for duty sometime in 2024 (for those of you keeping score at home, the other ship in the trio is the Michael Monsoor, which was commissioned in 2019).
Cross Your Fingers For USS Flying Electric Boat, Some Day
The idea of an electric hydrofoil boat for military use is not quite dead yet. In 2019, the Electric Ships Office of the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command outlined an electrification plan based around the recognition that 20th century internal combustion engines are not up to the tasks of powering 21st century military technology, and now the national security chickens have come home to roost.
“PMS 320 [aka the Electric Ships Office] is actively developing and providing simpler, affordable, and more capable ship’s power systems with increased power density for many Navy platforms,” they explain, adding that “The U.S. Navy’s Fleet is faced with the challenge of meeting increasing electrical power demands for advanced sensors and weapons while reducing vulnerabilities associated with a dependence on foreign sources of petroleum.”
PMS 320 is counting on new solid-state battery technology to revive the Navy’s interest in electric propulsion. Solid-state technology, as the name suggests, ditches the conventional liquid electrolyte in favor of a high tech ceramic or other solid material. The aim is to cut battery costs while improving range, performance, charging time, safety, and recycling.
Better Batteries For Better Flying Electric Boats
The solid-state battery angle circles right back around to Candela’s flying electric boat. The C-7 deploys a 40 kWh lithium-ion NMC battery pack, from a previous iteration of the BMWi3 (the latest i3 edition has a 42.2 kWh battery), and it just so happens that BMW is among the many auto makers to invest in solid-state battery R&D.
No word yet who is supplying the 44 kWh battery planned for the C-8, but if the relationship with BMW continues, there could be a solid-state battery in the next generation.
For those of you keeping score at home, Solid Power is the firm behind BMW’s new interest in solid-state battery technology, so keep an eye out for a future crossover from ground transportation to marine use, possibly with an assist from the US Navy.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: “Flying” hydrofoil electric boat, C-7 model courtesy of Candela.
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