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  • Writer's pictureHY-Plug France

The yachting industry and the climate emergency

In their recent article on the climate emergency, published in July, Challenges included a reference to our work, highlighting our contribution.

We are grateful to Challenges for this mention in their publication.

"Having become symbols of environmental aberration, these energy-guzzling ships are being electrified under the impetus of pioneering shipyards. It's a welcome change of tack for the image of a much-criticised clientele.

Monaco, its Prince, its Formula 1... And its yachts. Once again this year, the F1 Grand Prix on the Rock at the end of May attracted a multitude of luxury boats. Including 155 superyachts over 30 metres long, according to the figures compiled by Yacht CO2 Tracker. Over the three weeks of the event, they consumed more than 2.3 million litres of diesel and emitted at least 6,200 tonnes of CO2. An ecological aberration in the service of a few ultra-rich people, which is infuriating.

According to Camille Lopez, founder of the specialist consultancy HY-Plug, yachts only account for 3% of maritime pollution, but they are a magnifying mirror of inequalities and, as with jets, a key factor in the acceptability of the ecological transition. Global yacht sales are expected to grow by 8% a year between 2020 and 2025, according to a study by Mordor Intelligence, which considers that the sector, which is under pressure, has nonetheless entered the "age of eco-consciousness".

Most carmakers, such as Lürssen and engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce MTU, have taken up the issue through hybridisation. Bernard Arnault's Symphony, a vessel over 100 metres long, is powered by four hybrid engines that use 30% less fuel than a comparable conventional yacht. That's 657 litres per hour each, according to the manufacturer Feadship. And that's not counting the impact of the equipment on board. "There's no reason why yachts should consume so much for the pleasure of a tiny minority," says Raphaël Pradeau of the Attac movement.

Photovoltaic catamarans

But some builders have high hopes of transforming their entire industry, with reasonable speeds and electric propulsion, among other things. This is what the French company Whisper Yachts is proposing: photovoltaic catamarans costing less than €2 million for a 50-foot model (around 15 metres). That's enough to install 40 m2 of solar panels, coupled with batteries. "More and more company directors are contacting us because they can no longer afford to talk about CSR in their company and be seen in the summer on yachts that consume hundreds of litres of fuel", says co-founder Guy Marchal, whose first three boats are currently under construction. "The market is starting to change," says Camille Lopez.

But the revolution began with pioneers like Sunreef Yachts. The company was founded by Frenchman Francis Lapp and his son Nicolas in 2002 at the Gdansk shipyard in Poland, the birthplace of the Solidarnosc movement in 1980. Between the decrepit brick walls, Soviet ships have given way to luxury catamarans at the cutting edge of technology. To stay one step ahead, their teams developed electric and then photovoltaic models, with solar panels integrated into the hull, which are currently being patented, in the secrecy of the brand-new laboratory at the new shipyard, just a few kilometres from the historic site. "Four years ago, we said to ourselves that we had to be the first to go all-electric. The competition is moving slowly. Our family structure allows us to move quickly and take these risks," says Nicolas Lapp.

Sunreef, which employs 2,400 people, is forecasting sales of 250 million euros in 2023, compared with 180 million last year. And innovation is in full swing: the company is working on artificial intelligence for energy management and on a hydrogen system to replace the diesel generator still on board. Everything to move towards zero carbon. Nicolas Lapp hopes to switch to a 100% electric range within five years, even though its Eco range accounts for half of its sales. This is despite the extra cost of between €500,000 and €800,000 for yachts worth between €3 million and €50 million. According to the co-founder, this extra cost will be quickly recouped in fuel and maintenance savings.

"Business leaders who talk about CSR can no longer be seen in the summer on yachts consuming hundreds of litres of fuel." Guy Marchal, co-founder of Whisper Yachts.

Global eco-design

But Sunreef has not forgotten luxury. Everything is homemade: the hull, the engine, the sails, the solar panels, the joinery and even the upholstery. Everything except the electrical appliances. 45 boats are currently being built on the 80,000 m2 site. While workers are placing the first elements of a hull on a mould, there are workers sanding, painting or operating computer-controlled machines, while here the joiners are busy. All these skills are involved in eco-design: less toxic paint, recycled and recyclable materials, or in the future a hull made of linen or basalt. Between tradition and new know-how, the Gdansk shipyard, once a disaster area, is also in transition.

It's a philosophy that has won over several of France's richest families, as well as sportsmen and women like Rafael Nadal and Fernando Alonso. The F1 driver took possession of his solar-powered yacht in June: "My life goes at a thousand miles an hour, so when I'm on holiday I want to travel in total silence, without smoke or vibrations," he explains in a promotional video. And maybe sail all the way to Monaco, carbon-free.

Jets rely on SAF to go green

They are even more scrutinised and criticised than yachts. Environmental NGOs are denouncing the deplorable environmental impact of private jets. An observation that prompted EELV to propose, unsuccessfully, that they be banned in France. They account for 0.04% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But their weight increases if we take emissions per passenger, for non-essential use, stress the supporters of their regulation, or even their ban.

Under pressure, the players in the sector are betting on their transition, and are making it known. Their saviour? FAS, an alternative fuel made from biomass rather than fossil fuels. Broker Fly Victor is now offering its customers the chance to reduce the carbon footprint of their flights by buying SAF, which is injected into commercial aviation. "The reduction in emissions is immediate by avoiding the consumption of paraffin, unlike offsetting," stresses co-CEO Toby Edward. One in five Fly Victor customers currently chooses to pay voluntarily for SAF, for an average amount of 1,000 euros.

But there are many questions to be answered before FAS becomes widespread. Firstly, the cost, with FAS remaining 2 to 5 times more expensive than paraffin. Then there are the regulations, which do not allow an aircraft to fly with 100% SAF in its fuel tank. Finally, there is the question of reserves. Toby Edwards estimates that 40 million tonnes of the raw material are available worldwide, while European demand (flights departing from the EU will have to contain a minimum of 2% SAF by 2025) will not exceed 1.5 million tonnes in 2 years' time. But what about competition with other sectors - shipping, road transport, heavy industry, energy production, cosmetics, etc. - which will also be relying on biomass to reduce their carbon footprint? In the longer term, business aviation could turn to other technologies such as hydrogen or electric power, following the example of Eviation Alice's 9-seater jet, which made its first 8-minute flight in September 2022. But the question remains the same: will there be enough green energy to prevent private jets from having to ask themselves the question of sobriety? "

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