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Bill’s Ark

January is a bit of a financial squeeze for most of us. You know what it’s like, paid early in December, blew the last of it on new Year’s Eve, and an apparently endless January stretches out before us, our next pay cheque somewhere over the distant horizon and all around the gentle sounds of credit card bills belly flopping onto the doormat.

Bill Gates doesn’t have this problem. In January, he splashed out on a new toy, quite an expensive one. He has ordered himself a 112 metre superyacht. The Aqua comes with all the bells and whistles you might expect. Infinity pools, helipads, spa, gym, the usual stuff a discerning billionaire might consider essential. As The Islander’s readers know, this stuff doesn’t exactly come cheap, but at €650 million, give or take, this is a chunk of change even by mega yacht standards. The difference is what is under the bonnet.

Aqua has two, 28 tonne vacuum sealed tanks operating at -253C topped with liquid hydrogen. This will power fuel cells which combine with oxygen and hydrogen to drive the motors, generators and props, and it’s only byproduct is clean pure water. There are people better qualified in this magazine to tell you how this works, but this is next level stuff, and could well be a game changer for the boat business and beyond.

Gates is a clever man, his innovations in personal computing have, beyond doubt, changed the world. Without him I might well be writing this with a biro on a scrap of paper, and The Islander editorial team may well be cutting out photographs and sticking them down with Sellotape. There can’t be many people who don’t rely on the technology he pioneered to make some of their living, and he has amassed quite a fortune off the back of it, and quite rightly so. He established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that to date has given away more than $50 billion to varied causes around the world, to combat poverty and disease in the developing world, to provide clean water and mass vaccination. By the end of this year they aim to have prevented 11 million deaths, 264 million illnesses and 3.9 million disabilities through their vaccination programmes alone.

Gates recently joined other investors in backing Heliogen, a solar power company that develops and builds sophisticated next generation solar farms. Heliogen’s projects utilise computer aligned mirrors to focus sunlight to a specific point atop a mast that can cleanly generate temperatures of over 1,000C, which in turn can be used to power steam turbines to generate carbon free electricity to replace nuclear and fossil fuel generation. They hope that with the additional opportunity the inward investment affords to refine the technology to generate 1,500C, enough to split hydrogen atoms from water to generate a portable gas to power homes, cars, industry and, yes you guessed it, his giant new boat.

He doesn’t need to do any of this of course. He is giving away most of the money he makes, and still remains eye wateringly loaded. He could just order himself an off the shelf, regular €300 million mega yacht, kick back and retire like any normal billionaire, but you have to applaud his drive and altruism to make the changes the world desperately needs to see immediately.

If it turns out that he backed the right cause in hydrogen fuel cell technology, both with SY Aqua, and the investment in Heliogen he stands to make a good pile more money from it, but he is probably going to give that away too.

SY Aqua is more than just a toy, its 650 million bucks of loss leading, cutting edge research and development designed not just to take Bill and his buddies to lunch in Formentera, but to kick start a new wave of innovation that has the potential to trickle down to your boat, truck or car. To power your house, factory or city. According to the blurb from Heliogen they could reasonably expect to replace 75% of global fossil fuel emissions with clean, limitless power.

He hasn’t built a boat, he has built an Arc. If you believe the story, the original one was made of wood and nails, and saved the world. This one is a tiny bit more complicated but might just do the same thing. All aboard, form an orderly queue, two by two.

By Phill McCoffers