SeaBubbles Becomes a Technology Demonstrator

SeaBubbles has remained silent since its takeover. What are the main projects that have kept you busy?

Virginie Seurat: The idea was to concentrate all resources in the design office in order to develop technology that would meet the requirements of a green transition to mobility. To meet the needs of the market, we needed to build a big boat. [8 places contre 4 auparavant avec un modèle qui fait 8 mètres de long aujourd’hui, ndlr] and have more autonomy. We started from the base, from the proof of concept [réalisée avant le rachat, ndlr] which corresponded to the small “electric bubbles” on batteries.

We looked at the project as a whole. We knew that propulsion would play a big role in reducing our carbon footprint. We aimed to find out if there is enough energy production and how to optimize it to do more with less. You must be frugal in your use of energy. Hence the choice of hydrogen. This goes well with the fact that the boat has a retractable wing, which is the subject of a patent, which allows the hydrofoil to fly. By reducing water friction, this system reduces energy consumption by 35%. This requires a relatively light boat, otherwise it will not be able to fly. Hydrogen avoids the use of batteries, which would add weight to the car and reduce battery life to 30 minutes versus 2 hours and 30 minutes today. Charging is also much faster. We have also developed artificial intelligence that optimizes the power consumption of the boat.

Where are you in your development?

We allow technical teams to work for eighteen months. Today, the first boats are being built in our shipyard in Saint-Jorioz (Haute-Savoie). We have increased the staff from 5 to 26 employees and continue to recruit for technical positions, and soon for the production part. We will move on to the next step. In the summer there will be water tests.

You must have a pragmatic approach. To change the ecosystem, the paradigm, you need to start with the first step. Before you build 100 SeaBubbles, you should start by deploying one or two of them on site to understand all the issues around you: How do I get hydrogen? How to change the rules? The idea was to have a global solution in miniature and then be able to deploy it on a large scale. Otherwise, we risk getting large-scale organizational problems.

We need early adopters who are not only looking for the “magic experience” side, but who also want to be involved in building our model – working to adapt it to each environment – ​​and the infrastructure that goes with it. There is a real topic in the Middle East around the fuel cell and its cooling.

Our investor allowed us to enter this stage of development and market research. The next stage is industrialization with a mass market, a series, etc. For this industrialization to take place, a second upswing is sure to take place. Our shipyard in Saint-Jorioz is capable of producing about ten units, but beyond that we have to rely on our production partners.

The number of seats has doubled, its price is also higher. What is the purpose of SeaBubbles today?

We are currently reaching out to those who have adopted for the first time who want to promote the flight experience for their clients, such as the luxury hotel industry, as well as for governments or private players who want to demonstrate their ability to innovate and emphasize that they have begun their ecological transition. We have pilot projects in France and the Middle East [la société a noué un partenariat avec Al Masaood Power Division pour collaborer sur une version adaptée aux Emirats arabes unis, ndlr]. Middle East really beginning its post-oil transition, it is a region that benefits from excellent levels of sunshine and significant energy capacity. The best way to store this solar energy is hydrogen. Therefore, much attention is paid to this sector. Our partner has a power unit that is already interested in these topics.

It is very important not to be alone, because we need to develop an entire infrastructure around SeaBubbles and hydrogen. We also have a partner in Switzerland. We need to be able to support SeaBubbles maintenance because we won’t be able to be present worldwide. A training center will also be created.

So SeaBubbles are primarily technology demonstrators?

Our first models are meant to show the technology that we have developed and that can be applied to other applications. We need to start at the top to show our capabilities, as we deploy more stations the price will drop. The technology will develop in parallel and we will have other models. It also makes sense to think about retrofitting outdated and upgradeable fleets. You must inhale from above.

Through France 2030, the country is showing its willingness to finance the hydrogen sector. Are you seeing these achievements on the ground?

Finally, there is the political discourse and the financial alignment. There is a lot of money, it needs to be better directed and organized. There is real will but also brakes. Today we see a real desire to develop hydrogen production, but it does not make sense without practical application. Therefore, we also need to support the development of use cases. But all those who have invested in batteries may fear that their infrastructure will become obsolete and may want to slow down this development. I think the technology will make sense in relation to this territory. When you do not need autonomy, you can easily recharge the battery and set up a recycling channel, electricity through the battery works fine. We must have a territorial approach based on needs. Storing renewable energy with batteries or hydrogen are interesting solutions.

Note also that today 5% of the hydrogen produced is green, almost nothing. The geopolitical situation and rising oil prices should also accelerate this transition. Green hydrogen has been far from profitable compared to oil, but as prices rise for the latter, the gap is closing.

You already have deployment options in France, the Middle East and Switzerland. Are other countries interested?

Investment in green transition is significant in Europe, the US, the Middle East, New Zealand, Japan and Korea. We immediately left the French borders to develop. Countries have different decision-making processes. In the Middle East, decisions are made faster, but in Europe we have more support. Bpifrance is an incredible support for small and medium businesses. The State Bank is supporting us in setting up a pilot line, but in France consortiums are needed. If we don’t support our clients with funding, regulation or infrastructure, we risk serious setbacks.

The rules are changing, but we have several related technologies: foil and hydrogen that didn’t exist before. Our boat is electric, so we try to comply with existing regulations, but there is a real desire to find solutions when it is difficult.

As French, we have created added value. Our temperament to question everything allows us to be creative, which we find in startups, to face challenges and find solutions.