Meet the Genius Designer and Mad Scientist Inventor of the $20 Million Solar-Powered Yacht

by Owen James Burke

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Dr. Margot Krasojević’s conceptual design for her solar-powered hydrofoil trimaran mega-yacht. Image courtesy of Dr. Margot Krasojević

She may be eccentric, outlandish, offbeat, and to many, completely outside the realm of conventional architecture and yacht design, but Dr. Margot Krasojević may just be exactly what the world needs. The good doctor is an interdisciplinary troubadour who believes there should be no boundaries in architecture between land and sea, but rather a free-flowing exchange of concepts and ideas. Being both an architect and an avid sailor, her designs are avant-garde, outlandish and futuristic. If Salvador Dali ever devoted his otherworldly intellect to designing a yacht, he might bring something like Dr. Krasojevic’s radical trimaran to life.

Dr. Krasojević’s latest design is a hydrofoil trimaran with a rigid carbon fibre composite sail that converts into an electric motor-powered, solar energy-reliant cruiser by detaching its hydrofoils. The yacht is expected to have a hull speed of over 40 knots under sail, and would maintain a reasonable motor cruising speed of 15 knots — about that of most large yachts. But this yacht won’t motor on fossil fuel at all – only renewably generated electricity. It has become an object of scorn among some maritime engineers and sailing enthusiasts, who claim that the concept of a renewable energy-reliant mega yacht is but a pipe dream, and that her design, which turns the standard mould of sailboat or motor yacht on its head, is simply unseaworthy, if not outright crazy.

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Still, Krasojević’ is supported by a handful of fellow mechanical and architectural visionaries who share her passions and view renewable energy as something more than a marketing gimmick of the ‘green,’ or sustainability movement and acknowledge the idea as the only real solution to the eventual depletion of fossil fuels.

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The yacht isn’t Dr. Krasojević’s only ocean-based project underway; she’s also working on developing a Hydroelectric Tidal House, influenced by sea urchins, in South Africa, a solar-powered coral reef generating electrical station, and a 3-D printed light that gets its energy from the wind.  To call her a genius would be an understatement. 


 

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Image courtesy of Dr. Margot Krasojević

TheScut: Why do you think most yacht designers and builders are still shying away from utilizing alternative energy on a larger scale? The idea seems to be taking root on land (cars, motorbikes, homes, etc.) it really hasn’t caught on with yacht building.

Dr. Margot Krasojević: I think the main reason is that the technology associated with renewable energy is still rather bulky, batteries, motors, solar panels all weigh down and slow down the thrill of a racing trimaran. Most electric motors don’t really have the push needed whilst the motors themselves need deep, bulky hulls; it ruins the beauty of a sleek yacht unless other alternative materials are investigated. The problem with these is that there are so many factors which will have a possibly undesirable effect – because it is both a yacht for cruising and racing that materials alone may not be able to stand up to the demands of both programs. With these performance demands in mind, the yacht’s body will rely on recycled FRP (Fibre-Reinforced Plastic) elements to cut down on harmful emissions during fabrication and curing. Parts have to be continually recycled until a balance is established.

I believe that more cross disciplines in the yacht design process should be encouraged in order to open the design dialogue, as designers, we constantly stumble upon new elements, materials and approaches and by widening the references and parameters we can evolve in design faster.

What sort of background do you have in sailing?

I used to live on a catamaran moored on The Thames opposite Battersea Power Station and spent my youth sailing small cats in Montenegro and the Greek Islands. I visited Cape Town and Perth where I developed an interest  in racing yachts – I love the speed of cats and trimarans. I am working with marine and hydrokinetic engineers (currently they are also on my other S.A. project Hydroelectric Tidal House). I have been advocating cross disciplines in architecture (I am an architect) for the last 10 years and I genuinely believe that sailing is more about the sea, ocean and open water than prescribing to a conformed mentality about the rights and wrongs which is why I love trimarans. Basic sailing skill is obviously needed, but the challenge will always push the boundaries of not only design but experience of the sea – claiming your relationship with the sea is a right of passage.

Where are you currently based? Do you spend much time on the water?

Currently based in London, I am spending more time sailing with clients in Cape Town. I also have small studios in Beijing and Belgrade.

What influenced this design? What drives you to think so far outside the box, to take these “conceptual risks?”

I don’t like boats that drop anchor and vogue themselves into a lifestyle. I wanted to design a boat that could perform, as well as have a certain amount of comfort, but obviously with all the technology and energy performance, having scented candles, Egyptian cotton bedding and a spacious living area was not high on my design criteria. There are so many approaches to defining what a trimaran, cat or any boat should look or perform like, so it’s hard to push the energy efficient and sustainable side of yacht design, particularly as many people look upon the notion of clean fuel as a gimmick, which is a pity as this clouds judgements in design and sail-ability.

I am not a professional sailor, but I know the basics and love the ocean, I love trimarans which I can sail but continue to learn. I will never be put off from applying any skill I may have as an architect and engineer to define new design typologies (That’s a bit dramatic I know, but when you love sailing for whatever reason, why dilute this love by other people’s expectations and antiquated beliefs? I sailed a s a child; what was and still is important to me is the same. I don’t believe that sailing should be a closed, dogma driven, exclusive membership experience.  [That’s] why I love multihulls, regardless of tacking and pointing technique. It’s relating to the sea – which has always inspired me, unlike the idea of belonging to an outmoded and redundant sailing club. Sailing is a personal joy, one I shall continue to evolve with regardless of what is expected of me.

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Image courtesy of Dr. Margot Krasojević

How much time has gone into research and design?

The holographic filters, solar cell and step up electric motors along with composite fibre shells have been researched for over 10 years but applied to architecture and lighting design. This has only recently been directed towards Trimaran and catamarans. Sectional prototypes are currently being built and investigated for solar output electrical energy.

What will the hull be made of?

Carbon fibre and aramid fibre with epoxy resins have the best weight-to-strength ratio of all boatbuilding materials, but we initially wanted aluminium.

What do you expect the hull speed to be, under sail and power, respectively?

We believe the sail will cater to speeds up to 40 knots. With the hydrofoils we would like to increase this considerably. However, relying only on solar energy and when the wingsail is folded, the planing speeds are low, we predict approximately 15 knots.

That’s still a very respectable cruising speed. How much solar paneling will be required for it to be able to run entirely off the sun? Will it have backup fuel tanks?

The fresnel and holographic filter will greatly reduce the need for covering the entire yacht with solar panels, instead, a relatively smaller number of cells will focus and reflect the light within the cladding section allowing light to bounce within it – intensifying and concentrating sunlight. A major concern is to cool down the surfaces due to heat production, alternatively we can use this heat as a solar heat collector for an indirect source of power generation, the output will recharge the ship’s electric battery powered propulsion system. I don’t want a hybrid design, it has to be purely solar and wind turbine – not gasoline/diesel. We also have to focus on keeping the solar cells as cool as possible not just because of fire but to run them as efficiently as possible. The hotter the cell, the less productive an electrical output.

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Image courtesy of Dr. Margot Krasojević

So how will it be powered for cruising, when the sails are dropped or furled?

A series of on-board electric motors which are connected to batteries that store and use the energy as necessary. There are three electric motors and we are working on the number of batteries needed to successfully store enough energy for cruising a 6 hour distance without needing to recharge. We are working on having the wingsail fold down to expose as many solar cells as possible without contributing to drag. The batteries are always storing solar energy in the event that the electric motor is needed.

What exactly is a holographic solar collector?

Holographic film lines the inside of the double wall outrigger. It reflects and intensifies light, as does the Fresnel lens. Both concentrate light onto the solar cells – giving a higher voltage output. The cells are sandwiched within double clad outrigger walls allowing air to circulate and cool, but we still have the problem of overheating the cladding which is something we are still looking into.

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Image courtesy of Dr. Margot Krasojević

Concentrating sunlight onto a small area requires less photovoltaic material to capture the same sunlight as non-concentrating photovoltaics, making it cheaper, as optics (like the Frenel lens) are less expensive than cells. Concentrator technology/optics and semi-conductors have interested me for a long time, particularly with regards to harnessing energy within an architectural context. My father was a physicist whose research was amongst the first dealing with both subjects in the 1970’s, which helps point me in the right direction and has highlighted the importance of cross-disciplinary influence in environmental design issues.

We don’t want to use non-renewable fuels. This design attempts to support the environment by using electric motors and avoiding environmentally damaging emissions, yet with a similar level of efficiency afforded by (fossil) fuels. There are three electric motors – one in each hull – which are connected to the solar clad outriggers and solar cells within the wingsail. To prevent pitchpoling (capsizing end over end) we are looking at ways to redistribute weight between the hulls, as well as perpetual motion tracks to generate more energy to run when both cruising and racing. For me, the amazing thing about multihulls is the exciting designs and possibilities, thinking outside the box, experimenting with the design and taking conceptual risks to make them work – which is why the entire approach is an experiment.

The holographic filters, solar cell and step up electric motors along with composite fibre shells have been researched for over 10 years but applied to architecture and lighting design. This has only recently been directed towards Trimaran and catamarans. Sectional prototypes are currently being built and investigated for solar output electrical energy.

Who is backing you on this? How close is your yacht to being funded and becoming a prototype?

Partly backed by clients and partly by a Paris-based oceanographer. We haven’t released any press details to date because of schedules and other projects they are involved with. However, we’re close enough to start scaled down prototypes of the concentrators and wingsail.

About how much do you expect it will cost?

We are bracing ourselves for around  £15 million. But will have a better idea once prototype sections have been built.

What would be the vessel’s most favorable point of sail?

Cape Town, Western Cape South Africa, pointed high into waves, which is something the clients believe the Trimaran should be able to do.

My clients are from Franschhoek, South Africa (on the country’s Atlantic side, which experiences prevailing westerly winds).The aim is to show that the underfoil and fibre sails can point into waves but we also have to maximize sailing off point (or sailing off of the wind) – so the Atlantic Ocean it is.

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Dr. Krasojević’s Hydroelectric Tidal House, designed for South Africa. Image courtesy of Dr. Margot Krasojević

Now, you’ve also designed a Hydroelectric Tidal House, correct? And there’s a developer that wants to have it built in Australia?

Yes, the Australian developer wants to have a series, but I have reservations as [I also have] clients in South Africa [who] are already very much involved; it is becoming complicated and slowing everything down unfortunately.

Sorry to hear, but we do hope to see it up in running in the near future. Please keep us updated!

Dr. Margot krasojević has a Ph.D in Architecture Design and Theory, and has authored two books: Spatial Pathology-Floating Realities; and Dynamics and De-Realisation, though her favorite story may be The Shipwrecked Man and the Sea, from Aesop‘s Fables. Keep an eye out for updates on her projects on her website — OJB

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