Those who passed by the Kumaraguru College of Technology, Coimbatore, in the past few months, have been met with a novel sight.
In the garage on campus, 14 students huddled together building what would go on to become a unique, zero-emissions boat that would secure a place in the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge 2022.
How did they accomplish this feat?
It began on a morning in December 2021, when their president Mr Shankar Vanavarayar got a call from a friend who knew about the Monaco Challenge. The latter had heard of the grit and determination of these engineering students and suggested to Mr Shankar that they take part in the competition.
“Give it a try,” he said.
Try they did and went on to have their soft copy design approved a month later by the panel at Monaco. Once they cleared this initial procedure, ‘Team Sea Sakthi’ as they call themselves, knew time was running out and they had to work quickly on turning the soft copy design into a full-fledged model.
Months of researching, studying academic papers, designing, taking apart and redesigning came to fruition when ‘Yali’ was the star at the trial round conducted at the Chennai Port on 10 May 2022.
“It was more than a hit and miss,” says Sanaa Mohammed, a 22-year-old civil engineering student leading the group’s management and operations.
“We had just this one chance as the area was a naval base and there were many protocols to abide by,” she says.
The trial was under the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association and Yali impressed the onlookers with a speed of 20 knots that lasted for the entire duration of the 45-minute endurance test.
“We were thrilled,” exclaims Sanaa. Their next aim was to have Yali safely reach the shores of Monaco.
Creating ripples of conversations on sustainability
The Monaco Energy Boat Challenge has been garnering international attention since 2014, to stir discussions on reducing carbon emissions in the marine industry.
It has always encouraged young minds to come up with solutions to the world’s problems in the areas of sustainable transport.
Every year, countries such as the USA, Canada and the UAE, among others, come together to showcase their ideas in the form of models and talks, and this year the students of the Kumaraguru Engineering College decided it was time for India to shine.
The question is why hasn’t this happened before.
This very thought served as inspiration for the team of 14 students, who say that through their innovation, it is the first time that India is getting represented in the last 9 years of the competition.
A zero-emissions beauty on the water
Yali is a 5 metre x 3 metre catamaran. With her twin hulls and blue and white exterior, she is a striking beauty on the water.
Interesting to note is that Yali’s topology was inspired by the AGV train.
Anjana Prasad, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student who is behind the mathematical modelling, says that initially, the front part of the cockpit had a blunt nose cone. However, during simulations, they realised that a curved nose cone witnessed lesser drag and this could enhance Yali’s endurance.
The group was certain that they wanted to go the extra mile when it came to sustainably building the structure.
This extended right from the cockpit made of aluminium to the solar panels that power the boat.
“The aluminium 6063 T6 that we have used has a dual vantage of being lightweight as well as durable. Along with this, it has high corrosion resistance and good weldability,” says Sanaa.
Right behind the pilot’s seat, which has been designed like a ‘formula race car’, is a 9.6kW lithium-based battery on which the boat runs and on top of this is a 200W solar panel.
While the battery serves as the primary source of energy, the solar serves as the secondary, and this is in keeping with the challenge criteria.
Yali satisfies the zero-emission criteria as its lithium batteries do not produce any emissions and contain lesser amounts of heavy metals. In addition, the battery can be powered by the solar energy that the panel absorbs.
Another sustainable aspect of the Yali is her 6KW pod propulsion system that serves as the motor for the boat to run forward. This eliminates the need for a power source for steering, as it can be done mechanically. It will work in case of a power failure too.
The team has also gone on to use Mono PERC technology instead of the typical monocrystalline photovoltaic cells.
This, as Mohan R, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering student, who is in charge of the technical operations of Yali, explains, increases the efficiency of Yali.
“There is a layer of material on the back of the cells that allows reflection of light back through the cell and reduces the heat absorption,” he says.
Set to change the future of marine travel
“Carbon dioxide emissions from small boats and fishing boats, alike, have increased by 30 per cent in the past few years,” claims Sanaa, quoting the research they did while building the boat.
However, despite this figure, she says emissions from the waterways are often ignored.
So, as the world is moving toward electric cars, the team of students decided to take the route less travelled and move into the ocean space.
‘Electrifying the sea’ they say is their main motto.
The endeavour was not without its challenges, she adds.
“We all come from a landlocked area and we have no exposure to naval architecture.”
She says that fabricating the electric powerboat was a task as they did it from scratch in their college garage. Another challenge was raising funds and getting sponsors on board. However, they completed the task with the resources they had and the support of their staff.
Alongside building a zero-emissions boat, another objective that they have is creating conversion kits for boats. This entails transforming the diesel or petrol engines into electrical ones.
“To overcome the rising prices of EVs, many companies are developing conversion kits for bike or car models,” says Sanaa. “We want to do this for boats, as the marine sector contributes around 4 per cent GDP of India.”
While this is still in the works, the team is all set to travel to Monaco on 1 July for the race is set to take place from 4 July through 9 July at the Yacht de club Monaco. Apart from the energy race, there will also be prizes for innovation, tech talk, presentations and more.
The funding for the project was received from ‘Kumaraguru College of Technology’, and the team were able to pool Rs 6 lakh along with their alumni relations. The team too contributed Rs 1,30,000 to meet the fabrication expenses.
As the budget for the entire project is Rs 59 lakh, they are also looking to raise funds to the tune of Rs 13 lakh.
We reached out to the principal of the engineering college, Dr D Saravanan who expressed how proud he was of his students. “They’ve accomplished a lot in the last four months and I wish this team the best to represent India and win flying colours.”
Through their innovation, the team hopes for more companies to brave the strong winds of the sustainable revolution, and come up with electric boats.
“We want to make India the pioneer of Sustainable Propulsion Systems in the marine industry,” concludes Sanaa, as she gets set packing her suitcase for Monaco.
Edited by Yoshita Rao