No it’s not a Star Wars vessel!

Part of the solar panels on the roof of the Race for Water berthed in Ma’ufanga. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS

Race for Water vessel attracts interest as they work on reducing plastic waste and recycling for energy source


NUKU’ALOFA – December 12, 2018: 12.30pm (Enviro News with additional reporting by Matangi Tonga): My first impression was this was a vessel out of the movies.

The Race foe Water at the domestic wharf yesterday. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS

Sitting at the King Tau’fa’ahau Domestic Wharf along Vuna Road, the Race for Water looked more like one of those Star Wars spaceships then an ocean vessel.

But the vessel, which is the mast-ship for the Race for Water Foundation, has an important job as it travels the world in a five-year journey.

The vessel is living testimony to the fact that we can do it without fossil fuel – things can be operated with natural energy.

The Race for Water ispowered by the sun, water, and wind.

Sun energy is trapped through the solar panels , covering 512 square metres, which is then stored in eight tonnes of batteries.

Wind power is trapped in a 40 square metres automatically controlled kite that hovers above the ship from a height of 150 metres.

Seawater is turned to hydrogen and stored in 25 bottles at 350 bars on board.

The Race for Water’, is in Tonga raising awareness about new innovative solutions to preserve our ocean and to combat the rising tides of plastic in our oceans.

And they are proposing different methods — including recycling plastics into energy.

The Race for Water’s crew of seven, were officially welcomed on Monday morning at the King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV Domestic Wharf, by guest of honour Princess Pilolevu Tuita, government officials, and diplomats, who were keen to see the self-sustainable vessel and hear about its mission.

The expedition is part of The Race for Water Foundation’s project started by Swiss entrepreneur, Marco Simeoni, in his bid to preserve the world’s oceans by stopping plastic waste from entering it.

Captain Jean-Marc Normant told Matangi Tonga that they started sailing around the world in April 2017 and have found that the ocean contains an alarming amount of plastic, but in small sizes, a kind of microplastic or plastic dust that is impossible to clean up.

“It’s not really visible but I can tell you that there is plastic.”

He said they filter water from the ocean every day and “we can see how much plastic there is”. “It’s everywhere, there is plastic everywhere.”

Plastic waste

According to a 2016 study by McKinsey and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if the existing system of plastic production continues, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish, by weight, by 2050.

As plastic waste breaks down, they are categorized into macro-waste (less than 2.5cm), meso-waste (5mm – 2.5cm), and micro-waste, (less than 5mm).

The micro-waste is made up of primary microplastic (polyester fibres, plastic micro-particles found in cosmetic products), or comes from macro-waste which breaks down over time, disintegrating via chemical (ultraviolet radiation, oxy-genation), physical (wind, waves) or organic degradation.


When the Race for Water calls in at ports, Captain Normant and his crew share their observations about plastic pollution with the people they meet and offer solutions to stop it entering oceans.

“Most important is that we discuss this with people, and see how our solutions can fit because there is always a solution,” he said.

The foundation is promoting that the plastic problem must be tackled on land, to prevent it from ever reaching the oceans.

One way of doing this is by giving plastic waste a commercial value so that it becomes profitable for street collection.

Another way is by transforming plastic waste to an energy resource. The foundation has partnered with industrial partner ETIA, to come up with a technology capable of transforming end-of-life plastics into energy, either gas or electricity.


The Race for Water is 35 metres long and 26 metres wide. It runs on mixed solar, hydrogen, and kite energy demonstrating that transitioning to clean energy sources is possible.

For wind energy, the vessel uses a self-piloting towing kite which spans 40m2 when deployed with a boat speed of 5 to 8 knots.

For sun energy, it also has 512m2 of solar panels and storage in the 8 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries that provide 30-hours of energy range.

For water energy, it has 200kg of hydrogen stored in 25 bottles at 350 bars. The hydrogen converts into electricity and can supply the engine or recharge batteries which enables a range of up to 6 days at 5 knots.

The vessel will leave Tonga on Saturday, 15 December and make its way to Fiji. It is expected to end its worldwide expedition in 2021.

Dr Luka Mueller, a Swiss entrepreneur and owner of Seaview Restaurant in Kolomotu’a was instrumental in the visit of the Race for Water to Tonga.  

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