This French firm replaces the sails of boats with solar panels

This French firm replaces the sails of boats with solar panels

Heole has teamed up with a French navigator to test its solar panel technology on the sails of a boat that will start the Route du Rhum.

Heole is a young French shoot that distinguished itself at CES 2022 with a proposal of sails and envelopes that are a little bit special; they are covered with a specific coating which makes it possible to exploit the energy of the sun in addition to that of the wind to propel a boat or an airship.

Solar panels have imposed themselves on certain ships for obvious reasons; they are a particularly reliable source of energy (when the weather is good), in addition to being significantly lighter than other means of production.

The concern is that they need to have space available; an element that is sorely lacking on ships. It is therefore difficult to produce enough solar energy to propel the boat and power the onboard electronics ad vitam aeternam. This is where Martin Delapalme comes in, the founder of Heole, to whom the Voiles et Voiliers d’Ouest France section devoted an article.

Flexible, lightweight, and eco-friendly

This young entrepreneur thus imagined a sailing concept based on “organic photovoltaic cells” (OPV). The idea is simple: with his associates, he aims to produce a material that is light, flexible and even ecological at the same time, which would then make it possible to exploit another important surface of the boat, namely the sails.

The main difference between these cells and those of standard photovoltaic panels is the basic substrate used to produce them. This is usually silicon, but Helio has succeeded in replacing it with semiconductors of exclusively organic origin.

The sails thus produced are “so thin that they are flexible”, which makes them perfectly suited for making a sail. This thinness also makes them semi-transparent, which allows them to “capturing the light from both sides of the sail.”

Another crucial advantage for navigators: these organic cells are less sensitive to the vagaries of the weather than their silicon counterparts. “They make it possible to exploit a more infused luminosity such as the reverberation of the sun on the water, which increases their energy capacity even with cloudy weather”says the founder in the article of Ouest France.

The icing on the cake: still according to Ouest France, the semiconductors in question do not require any mining operation. This point alone already considerably reduces the ecological bill. This is therefore an excellent point in terms of sustainable development.

A low return, but a certain interest nonetheless

The only downside, and it is significant: the efficiency of these OPVs is significantly lower than that of silicon photovoltaic cells. According to Engie, the average yield of the latter is between 13 and 24% under ideal conditions (2019 figures). In contrast, Heole’s sail only manages to convert 3.5% of solar energy into usable electricity.

A relatively low figure, but which does not detract from the promises of the firm. Its founder asserts that the fact of being able to exploit new surfaces will be enough to compensate for this low yield. Indeed, according to Usine Nouvelle, a 50m² sail covered with OPV “would be enough to make a transatlantic racing trimaran self-sufficient in electricitye”, which is far from negligible.

Baptism of fire during the Route du Rhum

From now on, the firm will throw itself into the deep end. She has teamed up with French navigator Marc Guillermot, who will start the very prestigious Route du Rhum in November. It will therefore be very interesting to pay attention to the performance of your ship to judge the effectiveness of a sail fitted with OPV in real conditions.

If the test is conclusive, we could see this technology democratizing at high speed. And it’s not just about navigation; one can easily imagine lots of applications in various and varied fields, which makes the whole thing all the more exciting.

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