I recently stumbled across something so beautiful, so ambitious, so CRAZY, that I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. I’m talking about the Earth 300 superyacht.
It’s hard to know how to describe the Earth 300, designed by Iddes Yachts, a naval architect company based in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Is it a luxury yacht? A science vessel? A vanity project? It’s all of those, and more.
“The ship will introduce features found on cruise, expedition, research and luxury yachts...but she will be none of them.” — Aaron Olivera | Founder & CEO of Earth 300 Ventures
“The Earth 300 is conceived as an extreme technology platform for science, exploration and innovation at sea,” says Iván Salas Jefferson, founder of Iddes Yachts. Jefferson claims the vessel will include “robotics, IOT, AI and quantum computing and [come] equipped with 22 state-of-the-art laboratories”. Much of the science capability will be housed within a beautiful glass dome towards the rear (aft) of the vessel.
Sounds impressive. But why put all that on a boat?
“Our goal is to ring the climate alarm on a global scale and inspire ethical and ecological imagination,” Jefferson says. The Earth 300 team hope that by bringing together scientists, students, private citizens and world leaders on their super-advanced science yacht, they will raise awareness about pressing global environmental challenges: “We depend on Earth and it’s time to wake up.”
While the ‘science sphere’ will be dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, the forward part of the vessel includes private suites for high net worth individuals as well as world-renowned figures, which the team terms “very inspiring people” (their spin on ‘VIP’).
Earth 300’s designers hope their vessel will “capture the spirit of Silicon Valley, SpaceX, Davos and the Olympics”. This makes it sound like an ocean-going International Space Station (ISS) crossed with a superyacht. There’s definitely a risk the project appears less like a beacon for science and cooperation and more like a rich man’s climate change Noah’s Ark. They will have to tread carefully.
That said, the hardware behind Earth 300 is pretty epic. The most revolutionary aspect of the design is the power train: instead of burning fossil fuels, Earth 300 will be powered by an onboard nuclear reactor!
Earth 300 is working with Core-Power to explore how Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) technology might replace oil bunkers and gas turbines. An MSR would mean the vessel could carry out research with zero emissions and without the risk of water pollution from oil spills.
The World Economic Forum found that if shipping were a country, it would be the world’s sixth-biggest GHG emitter, so reducing emissions from marine vessels is vital if we’re to reach net zero.
If shipping were a country, it would be the world's sixth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter
Global shipping by sea amounted to an average of 1 billion metric tons of CO2 per year between 2007 and 2012, according…
The Earth 300 team see the MSR as the central technology around which the rest of the vessel would be built: “The first engineering challenge was to focus in finding the correct propulsion and onboard power generation technology that could cope with the high demands of a vessel of this size and, our direction became clear, it had to be atomic,” says Jefferson. He sees the reactor as “highlighting the key role that the maritime industries can play in decarbonizing heavy industry and transport”.
“It had to be atomic.”
It wouldn’t be the world’s first nuclear-powered vessel; not by a long shot. There are already hundreds of naval nuclear reactors powering military ships and submarines, and even some commercial vessels like Arctic icebreakers. It would be the first MSR-powered ship though, and the first civilian nuclear vessel outside of Russia for many decades.
Some big names have lent support to the project. In early 2020, IBM and Earth 300 signed an memorandum of understanding for the tech giant to provide data, AI and automation services.
The 160-year-old ship classification services provider, RINA, is also involved. “Earth 300 is a game-changer,” says Paolo Moretti, CEO of RINA Services. “We will bring to it all the competencies we have from materials selection to design, new technologies for propulsion, always with the aim to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact. Together, we will bring this revolutionary project to life and grasp the opportunity to give ourselves and the planet a better chance.”
But will it ever be built?
The Earth 300 is just so out there, it will be a real challenge to make it happen. Iddes Yachts claim that the “preliminary vessel design of Earth 300 is ready & approved, and the preliminary naval engineering is completed,” which suggests there has already been significant investment. That, coupled with the support of global players like IBM and RINA, shows this is not just a pipe dream. Reports in the media suggest a launch date for Earth 300 as soon as 2025.
Getting off the drawing board and onto the water means overcoming many technological and regulatory hurdles. That, and a whole lot of money. I reached out to Iddes Yachts to ask them how they planned to fund the vessel’s construction: “Earth 300 is a privately funded venture that will count on the support of global banks too,” they replied. So no customer just yet.
Getting off the drawing board and onto the water means overcoming many technological and regulatory hurdles. That, and a whole lot of money.
But will Earth 300 be a one-off, or just the first in a series of vessels? “At present we only have one vessel in development. Of course, as we progress we may add more and build a fleet,” was Iddes Yachts’ reply.
It’s not impossible to imagine a tech billionaire like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos being the first customer. There’s a chance this superyacht could be like the first Tesla cars: high-end supervehicles that build technological expertise and brand awareness for the more economic models that follow. It could be the first step to decarbonising shipping, one of the most polluting industries out there.
Here’s to hoping so!