World’s First Energy-Autonomous Electric Catamaran—Energy Observer—Docks at AltaSea


On April 28th, following a 27-day nonstop journey from the Galapagos to the Port of Los Angeles, the world’s first energy-autonomous electric catamaran docked at AltaSea. Creating and storing its own hydrogen, solar, wind, and hydro power onboard, the Energy Observer advocates for the future of renewable energy and serves as a floating laboratory for the ecological transition needed to restructure humanity’s relationship with the planet. VX News here excerpts Fmr. California EPA Secretary Terry Tamminen, AltaSea’s Tim McOsker, and Energy Independence Now’s Brian Goldstein; each highlighted the technology’s potential for combatting climate change, ocean acidification and accelerating innovation of the blue economy.

Tim McOsker: Today, we're celebrating our partnership with Energy Independence Now and their use of renewable hydrogen power.  This beautiful vessel, the Energy Observer, creates hydrogen power but is also a cogeneration facility in and of itself. Both EIN and AltaSea seek to establish and support technologies for a sustainable environment and for sustainable use of the ocean and blue technology. These great partners, EIN and the Energy Observer, are also showing off and testing technologies that can go into passenger vehicles and long-haul trucks, which can be part of this blue economy, and also part of the larger economy, to combat climate change.

The cars you see here today (at AltaSea), and the vessel behind me, the Energy Observer, are all powered by green hydrogen. These are the stepping stones towards a cleaner, more sustainable future that we all want for ourselves, for our children, our children's children, and future generations.

Terry Tamminen: As a boater myself—actually, a licensed Coast Guard ship's captain—I can really appreciate this technology and what the Energy Observer has accomplished. I'm really excited to hear more about it today, but let me just give you a quick bit of context.

Twenty-five years ago, I was serving as the Santa Monica Bay keeper. I got to put on a captain's hat every day and go out on a boat, bust polluters, and try to figure out what we could do to protect the ocean. Not far from here, there was a baby gray whale that washed up on the beach. Long story short, over 36 hours, dozens of people got together and rescued this baby gray whale, brought her to Sea World where they nursed her back to health and released her back into the wild.  We all patted ourselves on the back because we rescued this animal—JJ, they named her—and now, after decades of hunting gray whales almost to extinction, they're finally off the endangered species list. And because gray whales have a very similar biology to humans, she should live another 50 years, assuming she's still alive today. Every year, gray whales migrate all the way up to the rich seas in the Arctic to feed on amphipods and various other critters from the ocean and migrate back to Baja California; it’s a 12,000 mile round trip every single year.

But by pumping so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, we've changed the chemistry of the ocean. The largest ecosystem on this planet is now more acidic than ever before, which wipes out the food supply of this population of gray whales. We're now starting to see emaciated gray whales washing up on the beaches of Oregon, Northern California, and Washington, dying of starvation.

They're on the verge of extinction yet again because of something humans have done. I tell you that story because we still have another chance to redeem ourselves and to save this species and so many others by embracing technologies like fuel cells that will get us away from fossil fuels, that will create jobs, that will give us a prosperous future, a strong economy and a strong environment.

That's why, as Secretary of the California EPA, I created the Hydrogen Highway to break that chicken or the egg cycle. Could you get companies to bring fueling stations for vehicles if there were no vehicles? Or could you get car companies and boat companies to bring vehicles if there wasn't a way to fuel? Of course, things were interrupted by the last recession, but fortunately, things are back on track. We now have dozens of stations, thousands of hydrogen vehicles traveling all up and down our highways, and, along with battery technology, it is the future of electric cars

Energy Independence Now was created back in 2000 as a nonprofit designed to help people understand fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen as an energy storage and transportation fuel. Everyone understood batteries—even back then there were electric cars—but nobody understood the fuel cells and hydrogen and its potential.

I want to leave you with something, paraphrasing what Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we said here, but it will never forget what we do here.’  Alta Sea is such an important partner in all of this because they're helping to bring the blue economy into the light and making people understand that the blue economy is the economy. Without the ocean, we have nothing. So, whether it's the environment, sustainability of species, or the economy, we need all of the partners here today that made the Energy Observer possible.

Brian Goldstein: Despite all of the chaos of the last year, it's just so great to see friends and colleagues again and to have this wonderful opportunity to bring everyone together to talk about this boat, which is relatively new and really unique; it’s one of a kind. The special thing about this visit by the Energy Observer  is that it’s the perfect example of the tie-in between the work that Energy Independence Now, Alta Sea, and the Energy Observer each do, which really demonstrates the versatility of hydrogen as an energy carrier.

The story of hydrogen is really broad, right? It goes well beyond light duty passenger cars, which is probably what most people here have heard over or even seen on the roads in the last few years. But hydrogen is an energy storage medium for excess renewable energy. 

As you all know, in California we over produce and are forced to curtail energy.  We really need a mechanism, as we race toward 100 percent renewable energy, to be able to store this and keep a town the size of Los Angeles and industries the size of the twin ports here running overnight and on days when we don't have sun and we don't have wind.

Hydrogen plays a huge role in industrial decarbonisation. Sectors like ammonia production for fertilizers, steel, concrete, oil refining are industries that need either a high degree of heating or are already using hydrogen. Simply replacing that with renewable hydrogen will help us decarbonize some of the hardest to reach sectors of our economy, which brings us to transportation.

Everyone's familiar with battery electric vehicles and not as familiar with fuel cell electric vehicles. But at the end of the day, we really only have those two tools in the zero emission toolbox. As Americans, I think we're prone to try to pick a winner and  get behind one technology. But in reality, when we really only have these two options, it would be short sighted of us not to be fully informed and to give both technologies real opportunity for market acceptance.

It's for that reason that I'm really particularly thankful for Terry's work with the state that really encouraged our regulatory community and our policy community to let the market decide. What we’ve seen is this hydrogen technology has taken some years for us to build out a supporting infrastructure, but we're finally starting to see the real diverse applications of this technology. And it couldn't be on display any better than it is today with the Energy Observer. So just very briefly, I'll run you through it.

Hydrogen has the ability to quickly refuel; five minutes for a passenger vehicle or 20 minutes for a heavy duty truck. It's a communal refueling style. Fifty percent of people in California live in multifamily housing and don't necessarily have access to charging or a garage or even a consistent parking space, for that matter. The communal refueling nature of hydrogen is really going to be key to provide equal access to zero emission vehicles across the state.

When you move on up into heavy duty vehicles, we have 17,000 of these trucks in the Twin ports alone. Can you imagine trying to line up 17,000 trucks to plug in and recharge overnight—the electric infrastructure that goes into that and just the sheer logistics of it, not to mention the downtime of the vehicles or the thousands of pounds of batteries that they would have to haul? Hydrogen offers us versatility in the heavy duty space that I think we will see in abundance in the coming years thanks to the new advanced clean trucking rule.

We have these other areas of transportation that are oft overlooked.  But right now, we've got the Energy Observer here, and this is something I couldn't be more excited about. This morning, I showed up in Long Beach, and we took the trip over for about an hour and a half. We passed dozens of large container ships—huge ships that are some of the most polluting vessels in the country, or in the world, for that matter. To know that we have a zero emission option that will let these container ships travel pretty much around the world without having to refuel, to be able to store liquid hydrogen—ideally, renewable hydrogen where we can set up infrastructure, of course, just like this—and enable the shipping industry to operate in a cleaner manner. It's just absolutely fascinating to me.

I look at hydrogen as this Swiss Army Knife of energy carriers. It has all of these amazing applications, very diverse applications. And nowhere is it really better demonstrated than in this boat. The Energy Observer, while it’s sailing, uses solar electricity to desalinate seawater that it uses that to run a fuel cell to propel the boat, completely autonomously, so much so that they sailed for 27 days, from the Galapagos to Long Beach without stopping—no need for fuel. 

It's just absolutely mind blowing to me and really hit home today when we were sailing over, producing all our energy on board with no engine noise and our only emission was water. Right then, these pods of dolphins literally just started popping up around the boat, almost like it was staged for the morning—a very Hollywood moment. So, I'm really thankful that you're able to bring these vehicles and vessels together to demonstrate the versatility of hydrogen and a little bit of what the future has in store for this sector.


“The special thing about this visit by the (catamaran) Energy Observer is that it’s the perfect example of the tie-in between the work that Energy Independence Now, Alta Sea, and the Energy Observer each do, which really demonstrates the versatility of hydrogen as an energy carrier.”—Brian Goldstein