The software tycoon Bill Gates has commissioned the world’s first hydrogen-powered superyacht, in a £500m signal of his belief that investment in new clean technology is the best way to cut carbon emissions.
The Sunday Telegraph can reveal that the retired 64-year-old is behind the construction of a cutting-edge vessel by the Dutch superyacht specialist Feadship.
The custom build is based on blueprints for the 112-metre design “Aqua” publicised last year at the Monaco Yacht Show by the Dutch marine architects Sinot to draw environmentally sensitive billionaires. It said the plans took “inspiration from the lifestyle of a discerning, forward-looking owner”.
Mr Gates, who co-founded Microsoft and is currently ranked as the world’s second-richest man, is a regular superyacht holidaymaker but has not previously owned his own vessel and has preferred to rent during summer trips around the Mediterranean.
His new vessel, which is scheduled to go to sea in 2024, will not measure up to some of the world’s largest pleasure cruisers, such as the 163-metre Eclipse commissioned by Roman Abramovich, the oligarch and owner of Chelsea football club.
Mr Gates will, however, gain bragging rights over other ultra-rich seafarers as the owner of the world’s only hydrogen-powered superyacht, which industry sources estimate will cost about half a billion pounds.
The designs for Aqua include two 28-ton vacuum-sealed tanks to store liquid hydrogen at minus 252 Celsius. The fuel will be used to generate power for the two one-megawatt motors and the passengers via fuel cells, which combine hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce only electricity and water.
Sinot claims the system offers a top speed of 17 knots, cruising speed of 10 to 12 knots and range of 3750 nautical miles, more than enough to cover an Atlantic crossing from New York to Southampton.
The acquisition is the latest sign of Mr Gates’s longstanding interest in alternative fuels. He is an investor in Heliogen, a California start-up that uses smart software to control an array of mirrors that focuses the sun’s rays to generate extreme heat. It aims to create a clean source of hydrogen gas by splitting water molecules without the use of fossil fuels.
Most hydrogen is currently produced by processes that rely on fossil fuels and produce carbon dioxide. It is possible, although much more expensive, to use electricity from renewable sources to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Mr Gates, who has pledged to give most of his estimated $118bn fortune to good causes via the Gates Foundation, has argued that investment in new energy systems is a better way to cut carbon emissions than forcing investors to pull out of oil companies when the economy must still rely on fossil fuels to some extent.
Despite Mr Gates’ enthusiasm for hydrogen power, shipbuilding sources said that the plans for his superyacht include diesel back-up due to the scarcity of hydrogen refuelling stations. It is understood the project includes plans to establish facilities at the superyacht’s home port, however.
Mr Gates’s plans for the vessel’s accommodation are unclear, but in the marketing materials for Aqua the designers suggest an armoured glass window to view the liquid hydrogen tanks and a gym with “massive, gym-wide hatch which opens to reveal the ocean’s surface at water level, creating the perception of exercising and relaxing on an island in the sea”.
The concept also includes a “spectacular, extremely spacious” owner’s pavilion, occupying the front half of the upper deck and offering “an abundance of privacy”. Meanwhile “the VIP cabin and other staterooms are focused on openness, luxury and comfort, providing a maximum sense of freedom in a highly detailed minimalist Japanese beach-style setting”, according to Sinot.
The Gates Foundation and Gates Ventures, Mr Gates’s investment vehicle, declined to comment.
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