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A solar sail for producing green electricity

The French start-up Héole has come up with the idea of developing organic photovoltaic sails to produce green energy to power boats. And it intends to make this dream a reality during the next Route du Rhum, which will start in November.
A solar sail for producing green electricity
@Leyton Sailing Team
A solar sail for producing green electricity

At the starting line, one boat should stand out from the rest: the eco-responsible trimaran of navigator Marc Guillemot which should be equipped with an organic photovoltaic mainsail incorporating solar sensors. The sail uses daylight to power the on-board electronics as well as the seawater desaliniser. A revolutionary concept and a world first which, according to Héole, could allow unlimited autonomy for ships at sea.

Collecting energy from wind and light to produce energy on board

Called OPV for Organic PhotoVoltaic, organic photovoltaic cell technology involves the eco-responsible conversion of light energy into directly usable electricity. The technology is based on polymers from organic chemistry: light-sensitive semiconducting polymers. In short, these flexible, lightweight cells that fit onto curved surfaces and can be rolled up are encapsulated in the sail and will capture light energy, even if it is of low intensity, as is the case in the morning, later in the evening or on cloudy days. Thus, about 30m² of organic film should be inserted into the 80m² canopy. The energy recovered will be converted into electricity that can be used directly. This is a green alternative to using fuel on board, which is necessary to recharge the electronic devices on their boat, such as the navigation lights, the on-board computer and, above all, the automatic pilot. In a transatlantic race, less fuel on board means a significant weight reduction and improved performance as a result.

An innovative and eco-responsible alternative to fossil fuels

Thirty times lighter than a conventional solar panel, OPV cells do not use any rare materials, require very little energy to manufacture and are entirely recyclable. According to Jean-Marc Kluber, president of the start-up, "OPVs last 25 years and we know that their ecological cost is amortised in three months". What remains to be tested is these unusual sails’ resistance to water, salt and wind. We will find out in November!

Decarbonising the boats and buildings of tomorrow

The integration of solar cells into flexible surfaces should not be limited to sailing boats. Jean-Marc Kluber plans to use his technology in the near future to meet the energy needs of electric airships, buildings and ephemeral or insulated constructions, etc. In 2023, Pierre Chabert, also a co-founder of Héole, will test the concept, but on board an electric airship. Made from organic photovoltaic fabric, the Lélio balloon is aiming for a speed record in the Mediterranean crossing.
For the time being, Héole presented its innovation in January 2022 at the world's largest electronics show, the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in La Vegas.

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