Sustainability

How Superyachts are Becoming More Sustainable

19 August 2022By Louisa Beckett
Vitruvius Shinkai infographic
Courtesy of Vitruvius
Louisa Beckett

Written by

Louisa Beckett

Louisa Beckett is the former editor of Motor Boating, ShowBoats International, and Southern Boating magazines, and a longtime contributor to Dockwalk. Over her career, she has written about a wide variety of vessels ranging from Sea-Doos to superyachts, and has had many adventures on the water, including riding in a U.S. Coast Guard “rollover” boat in heavy surf off Cape Disappointment, Washington.

These days, it’s common for yacht owners to drive an electric car to their boat. In the near future, their private aircraft may be electric as well. So, it’s no surprise that environmental sustainability for superyachts is a hot topic.

A recent 2022 Benetti Yachtmaster event, held in February in Venice, Italy, was attended by 70 superyacht captains; its agenda included three days of presentations about new technology for more sustainable yachting. During the event, Marco Valle, Azimut|Benetti Group CEO, commented: “Today, the sea and yachts are a dream to indulge in, as well as being a safe investment. The deprivations and restrictions of the last two years have created an almost physical need to find a safe space to live in; somewhere to establish physical contact with the outside environment and rediscover the feeling of freedom, which on a boat extends into infinity. These factors have proved crucial in driving a remarkable acceleration in the purchasing process for more sustainable boats and in appealing to new, and above all, younger customers.”

“My opinion is that the world of superyachts faces a stark choice: Either become sustainable or disappear,” says Pepe García-Aubert, president & CEO of the MB92 Group. MB92 recently released a report called The Future of the Oceans: Navigating Toward a Sustainable Superyacht Industry.

The 2022 Benetti Yachtmaster tackled sustainability.

A growing number of industry members have committed to adopting and/or developing technologies and practices to help them meet the initial greenhouse gas strategy set out by the IMO for international shipping of a 40 percent reduction in carbon intensity relative to 2008 by 2030 and a 50 percent cut in CO2 emissions by 2050. (Carbon intensity is the amount of life cycle greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy of fuel delivered.)

To drive the trend toward superyacht sustainability and provide a platform for industry-wide collaboration, the Water Revolution Foundation (WRF) was launched by a group of shipyards and industry stakeholders in 2018. The WRF and its partners advocate taking a holistic approach to enhancing superyacht sustainability by tackling the challenge throughout its life cycle, including design, construction, and operation.

Design

While not a new concept, a long, narrow hull has been proven to be a highly efficient design for seagoing yachts, increasing fuel economy and thereby lowering fossil-fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Oceanco, a WRF partner, in collaboration with Lateral Naval Architects, used this in the design of the 109-meter Bravo Eugenia, delivered in 2018. “Our teams at Oceanco and Lateral focused on one of the basic principles of hydrodynamics: Maximizing the yacht’s waterline length reduces overall demand for propulsion power, and therefore size of engine and related equipment needed,” says Paris Baloumis, Oceanco group marketing director.

M/Y Luminosity
Credit: Giuliano Sargentini

A more recent example is the 55-meter ice class expedition yacht Shinkai, designed by Vitruvius Yachts and built by Feadship (another WRF partner), which launched in 2021. Vitruvius naval architect Philippe Briand gave the boat a slender steel hull with a steep underwater rise at the stern for added efficiency. Powered by twin MTU 12V 2000 M72 diesels, Shinkai has a max range of 5,500 nm. A slim hullform typically offers less interior volume than a traditional hull, however, which can lead to some design compromises. Since there wasn’t room for an interior tender garage on Shinkai, the tenders, which include a U-Boat Worx C-Explorer 3 submersible, are stored on the open aft deck.

Interior design is trending toward greater sustainability as well. No longer will you see bar stools upholstered in whale foreskins. Renewable materials such as bamboo, cotton, hemp, and fruit leathers are growing in popularity. For example, the new 80-meter Amels 80 concept that Damen Yachting (a WRF partner) unveiled in March is billed as having an interior constructed from “natural and neutral materials.”

Fabrics, carpeting, and veneers made from recycled wood, plastic, and other waste products are popular for interiors today. One example is ECONYL, a regenerated nylon made from discarded plastic, including fishing nets, that otherwise would pollute oceans.

“Clients are already asking us to engineer, design, and build yachts which can operate in a ‘leave no trace’ manner,” Baloumis says.

Oceanco adopted a collaborative approach to sustainable yacht design that the shipyard calls “NXT,” which includes working with experts across a variety of industries to set new benchmarks in eco-friendly yacht design. “We are currently exploring the use of more sustainable materials, and we feel that fully recyclable and biodegradable options will indeed become more important in yacht building and interior decoration,” Baloumis says, adding that they’re investigating the viability of glass in the hull and using materials for the interior that are derived from the ocean, such as recycled ocean plastic. “And for decking and other areas currently using hardwoods like teak, we predict these will be replaced by more sustainable alternatives such as bamboo.”

The challenge with sustainable materials is to maintain the upscale look and feel owners demand. As such, a recent 88-meter yacht’s interior design featured a bathtub hand-inlaid inside and out with eggshells, created by Nature Squared, an artisanal design firm dedicated to working with sustainable materials.

Oceanco Bravo Eugenia’s single-tier engine room
Courtesy of Oceanco

Construction

Superyacht shipyards long have embraced new methods to lower construction impacts, such as vacuum resin infusion in fiberglass yachts. Today’s yards equip their vessels with the latest tech to enable them to recycle gray- and blackwater and use energy more efficiently. In particular, digital switching has had a revolutionary impact on the ability to program and control electrical equipment — and has saved miles of cabling. Now, future-minded shipyards are working to reduce the physical facilities impact where construction and refit work takes place. Oceanco is among the shipyards leading the charge. “We take an all-embracing approach to sustainability, starting with our state-of-the-art and sustainably upgraded facilities. For example, geothermal heat recovery installations and electrical driven heat pumps will reduce gas consumption by approximately 50 percent. Furthermore, the rooftop covered with solar panels will cover up to 10 percent of the yearly energy consumption for the building,” says Baloumis.

Feadship is committing to deliver emission-free yachts by 2025 and an emission-free construction process by 2030. Among the green solutions employed by its Royal Van Lent yard, for example, is “district heating,” which runs off wasted energy from nearby factories; solar panels; LED lighting, and a three-tier ventilation system. The MB92 Group is implementing solar panels and other green solutions as part of the five-year plan launched last year to become a sustainable enterprise. “We must stop waste going into the ocean,” García-Aubert said in his preface to The Future of the Oceans: “All of a ship’s waste — during construction, during a refit, and during consumption by the ship itself — must be controlled.”

Operation

Developing alternative propulsion and hotel services solutions — that will reduce a vessel’s greenhouse gas emissions and decrease fuel and energy consumption — is a dynamic part of the sustainable trend. At its 2022 Yachtmaster event, Benetti stressed the importance of pursuing all the potential technologies currently in development, including fuel cells and bi-fuel engines, alternative fuels such as hydrogen, biofuels, and new synthetics.

“We believe that the best solutions in a 10-year timeframe are hybrid diesel-electric propulsion systems,” Azimut-Benetti VP Giovanna Vitelli said. Benetti’s 2019, 107.6-meter Luminosity is a good example. Luminosity has an advanced system comprising six 1,000kW generators that power two azipods and hotel services. Extra electricity produced is used to charge more than 36 tons’ worth of batteries — the largest battery pack of yachts afloat when she launched — offering up to 12 hours of quiet, vibration-free navigation without needing the generators. Her range is 8,000 nm at 10 knots.

Benetti offers its owners the opportunity to equip new yachts with Hotel Mode Zero Emission systems, supported by high-energy-density lithium battery packs, or with Full-Hybrid systems that are even more effective at reducing environmental impact and offer a zero-emissions mode while running at low speed. A next-gen example of the latter is the Full-Hybrid E-MODE system developed by Benetti with Siemens Energy for the shipyard’s new B.YOND 37M superyacht.

Water Revolution Foundation’s Life Cycle Approach

The Amels 80 that Damen Yachting recently unveiled features hybrid electric propulsion. So does the new 75.2-meter Custom DY 75 Hybrid expedition yacht Damen laid the keel for in March. In addition to the two main engines, the DY 75 Hybrid will have PTO/PTI (Power Take Off/Power Take In) hybrid electrical drives that are capable of running at up to eight knots for a total range of 6,200 miles when cruising at 14 knots.

Part of Oceanco’s NXT sustainable design initiative is the new 90-meter KAIROS concept, developed in collaboration with Pininfarina along with Lateral Naval Architects. It features all-electric propulsion and hotel operation. Batteries are the primary means of energy delivery.

Of course, sailing yachts come with a built-in eco advantage. Oceanco’s 2018, 106-meter Black Pearl remains an outstanding example. Her three 70-meter carbon masts support up to 2,900 square meters of sail using the world’s largest DynaRig system. She can cross the Atlantic without burning even one liter of fossil fuel. Thanks to her innovative hybrid propulsion and massive battery bank, Black Pearl also can generate and store up to 480kW while under sail.

These yachts represent the current state of superyacht sustainability. We don’t know what future yachts will look like, but thanks to industry-wide collaborations, they are sure to be exciting.

“Clients are already asking us to engineer, design, and build yachts which can operate in a ‘leave no trace’ manner,” Baloumis says. “Relatively speaking, superyachts are some of the cleanest vessels in the world, which is something to be proud of, but every industry bears its responsibility to become more respectful to the planet. Therefore, the use of fossil fuels will not be part of our future. We therefore say at Oceanco with some certainty that the future is ‘Zero.’ Zero carbon. Zero emissions.”

“I hope that in the next 20 years we will see a complete transformation of our industry,” says García-Aubert. “We can see that owners are more and more ready to invest in new yachts with new propulsion systems. If we don’t do this in the next 25 years, the world will probably say: ‘Sorry, but you cannot use these boats anymore because we are in real danger of losing the oceans.’”

This feature originally ran in the June 2022 issue of Dockwalk.

More from Dockwalk