Solar Boat Twente is a student team from the University of Twente and Saxion University of applied sciences that works towards bringing a positive impact to society by designing and building an efficient sun-driven boat with hydrofoils. With this boat, they will take part in the World Championship. 

With collaborations between partners, Solar Boat Twente stimulates companies to innovate themselves. Besides that, the company tries to reach an as large audience as possible for the challenges, but also possibilities, of sustainability in the maritime sector.  

Interview with Jan Hein Swillens, responsible for the external affairs of Solar Boat Twente.

Easy Engineering: What are the main areas of activity of the company?

Jan Hein Swillens: Our project mainly focuses on inspiring the maritime sector by trying out innovations. These innovations can for example be proven to be more efficient by theory, but not yet in practice. Large maritime companies often find it too much of a hassle to research these possible improvements but Solar Boat Twente embraces them. 

E.E: What’s the news about new products?

J.H.S: The solar boat consists of software, electronics and hardware. This hardware includes the hydrofoils, propulsion system and the structural part like the hull itself. The electronics include the solar panels, the battery, the battery management system, the MPPT’s and the motor controller. 

E.E: What are the ranges of products?

J.H.S: In cloudy weather, with a full battery, our solar boat can sail for at least 20 kilometres. However, in sunny circumstances, it can sail infinitely when the power usage and the power income are equal. Of course, it is also important to make the boat foil in order to make the energy usage far more efficient. 

The boat can sail most efficiently on ideally 25 kilometres per hour, where it will fly on the hydrofoils, and then overpass large distances. It can also sail faster, up to around 45 kilometres per hour; however, it is far less efficient.

E.E: At what stage is the market where you are currently active?

J.H.S: In terms of building an efficient sun-powered boat, the market is exploring options, for example, smaller boats meant for recreation purposes or a ferry. The usage of solar energy on larger vessels seems to be hard to reach as they require a lot more power and thus solar panels. Solar Boat Twente recognizes this and we therefore also investigate future chances where our project can for example focus more on hybrid combinations or to put more focus on battery improvements. 

E.E: What can you tell us about market trends?

J.H.S: We notice that the market is very open to using sustainable energy and therefore are interested in our results. Some partners we work together with for example collaborate with us to help us but also to receive data of certain products tested.

E.E: What are the most innovative products marketed?

J.H.S: This year, we again improved our technical parts. We have developed a new motor controller, which is smaller and lighter, whilst remaining at least as efficient as the former motor controller. Furthermore, we have produced our own hydrofoils using our newly built carbon oven. As our boat is tested on endurance races but also in sprint races and agility races, several types of hydrofoils have been developed. Next to that, we investigate the usage of a double counter-rotating propeller, as theory suggests that this works more efficiently than just a single rotating propeller. 

E.E: What estimations do you have for 2023?

J.H.S: This year we participate in several races, including the Dutch National Championship in Akkrum, the New Energy Regatta Race in Enkhuizen as well as the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge in Monaco, which is the World Championship.   

As mentioned before, during these races our boat will be tested in endurance races, sprint races as well as slalom races. We have already raced in Akkrum and Enkhuizen. In Akkrum we experienced a small error in the battery, resulting in us barely missing the third place and still becoming fourth. In Enkhuizen, we sailed our races very well and this resulted in becoming first! The last race on the planning is the World Championship in Monaco, which takes place in July. We focus on both performance as well as the reliability of our boat and work hard on trying to reach a podium spot.