3 images

Superyacht Design Festival: DRIFT Energy on its plans for the future

4 January 2023• Written by Katia Damborsky

DRIFT Energy uses "Energy Yachts" to harvest energy from towable turbines and then distributes it to ports and harbours across the globe. According to CEO Ben Medland, "there is no shortage of ambition for a greener marine sector," and ahead of his appearance at the Superyacht Design Festival in Cortina, Medland sat down with BOAT to explain more about how his technology works.

Can you explain a bit about how Drift works, in simple terms?

The equation is to take a sailboat. Add a turbine. Then multiply that by the power of modern A.I. routing to generate green energy in the deep ocean. DRIFT’s Energy Yachts are designed to sail the world’s oceans, towing turbines through the water to generate energy, that is in turn stored onboard as green hydrogen in a process called electrolysis. The resulting climate-critical green hydrogen is then delivered to any port around the globe.

Sailing vessels that harvest energy for shiploads are nothing new; however, we are talking grid-levels of power production in what is a renaissance of sailboat design. Our patent-pending A.I. routing algorithm then hunts ‘goldilocks’ weather conditions; positioning flotillas in real-time to deliver optimal volumes of green hydrogen at stable prices.

How do you foresee this technology working together with the superyacht industry?

Having proven our technology at the SailGP race this summer in Plymouth, our objective is to expand our designs into what we call our ‘Ocean Class’ project. The advent of our Ocean Class vessels brings about several benefits to the superyacht industry. Firstly, it will make green hydrogen available across the marine sector, serving the growing number of alternatively fuelled superyachts, inshore vessels and support craft with clean power.

Secondly, our scale of shipbuilding is unprecedented and will be a huge net positive for shipyards, jobs and the wider supply chains. Thirdly, DRIFT will further fuel the renaissance in yacht and ship design that we are seeing play out across the sporting, commercial and leisure markets.  

What are DRIFT’s focus and priorities for the next year?

Our priority is to get to Ocean Class, and quickly. So that means we are busy with researching, designing, partnering and team building to bring that vision of Ocean Class to life. We are working to form strong partnerships with shipyards, OEM suppliers, sail manufacturers, etc to progress towards the laying of the first keel in 2023. This means a focus also on the development of our operations and securing partnerships with ports, councils, and commercial organisations for the offtake of our hydrogen payloads. One yacht will be good, but many will make the difference our planet needs as we set our sights on abating a gigatonne of C02 by 2050.

What were some of your biggest highlights from 2022?

The biggest highlight has to be making our first hydrogen. We went from buying a boat to making the world’s first-ever hydrogen on a foiling yacht in 12 weeks. When the hulls rose out of the water that first time and we saw the dream come true and it was a huge moment for me personally.

Second, but only just, was then being able to get the sister boat finished in three weeks ready for our demonstration at SailGP Plymouth.  Here we made another first, producing green hydrogen on the historic sound whilst sailing amongst the F50s of sailing legends like Sir Ben Ainslie and Peter Burling.

How do you think we can encourage more players in the yachting industry to support green energy?

I think we need to find a way to create a positive feedback loop in the industry. From what I have seen, there is no shortage of ambition for a greener marine sector. What is harder, is to accelerate the pace of change, because of either perceived technical risk, cost, maintenance, or lead times. The hydrogen (and alternative fuel) market is still in its early days. So, it is important that both sides of the market meet and mesh together. The demand side from owners and operators is to be setting a ‘zero carbon first’ mindset. And for the industry to collaborate more and champion loudly the significant gains in this space. The technology exists to achieve what we want from a greener marine industry… we just need to work hard and pull a ‘double shift’ to make it happen for the good of all that will follow.

How will you ensure you maintain momentum in the years ahead?

By being focused. We have an opportunity to unlock 70 per cent of the globe to green energy production and go where other renewables cannot. One commentator referred to us as the ‘renewable that doesn’t stand still and wait’. And new renewable classes don’t come around very often, so we will be moving fast to scale up and play our part in the energy transition. Maintaining that momentum through partnerships, hiring, graft and most of all success. We may not be a superyacht by conventional definition, but we are aiming to be the most "super" yacht.

Ben Medland will be speaking more about his technology and alternative fuel sources for superyachts at the 2023 Superyacht Design Festival. Tickets are still available. Find out more here.

Buy tickets