Engineering students make a splash in Monaco with solar-powered boat


Boats of all shapes and sizes – from some of the world’s largest, most-luxurious yachts to sleek powerboats – cruise the waters near the Monaco Yacht Club on the Mediterranean Sea.

Add a solar-powered boat designed and built by University of Louisiana at Lafayette mechanical engineering students to the fleet. The five-member Southern Solar team became the first from the U.S. to land a berth in the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge. The 2023 challenge was held earlier this month.

Monaco is the world’s second-smallest country, yet one of its wealthiest and most enticing destinations. Leisure wasn’t the reason for the UL Lafayette students’ trip to the 500-acre slice of coastline on the French Riviera, though. Lelia Deville, who is pursuing a Ph.D., and recent graduates Brennan Guarisco, Jordan Smith, Taylor Thistlethwaite and Claire Werther traveled there to test the performance and energy efficiency of the “Beausoleil.”

Their innovative vessel, which was created in UL Lafayette’s Louisiana Solar Energy Lab, shined during boat races in several categories against teams representing 31 universities from 21 countries. Southern Solar finished 11th in both the solar class championship and the solar class endurance race. It also placed 12th in the solar class general ranking category.

The team’s success wasn’t confined to the water. Team members contributed to the international dialogue about sustainable boat research, design and construction during a tech talk about their project – and the research and engineering expertise they poured into it.

Theirs was a rapt audience. The Monaco Energy Boat Challenge brings together the world’s boating industry leaders to attend conferences, seminars, job forums, make product pitches and interact with burgeoning engineers. It’s all wrapped around a central theme – sustainable boat design and construction.

The Monaco Yacht Club, the International Powerboating Federation and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation coordinate the event. Its focus is alternative energy solutions for the boating industry in areas such as solar, hydrogen, biomaterials, electrochemical energy storage systems and other sustainable technologies and materials.

Students are integral to the effort. Their small-scale crafts help inform research and development for everything from superyachts to pleasure boats. Student entry into the challenge rests on several factors, including an intensive application and a detailed technical report that covers such topics as performance, safety, sustainable materials and ecological impact.

The strength of the “Beausoleil” stands on nine solar modules mounted on its deck that help power the boat. Equally important are four hydrofoils, poles that extend downward beneath boats that hold wing-like plates and propellers at their ends. Their design elevates a boat’s hull at cruising speeds. The result is less drag, making the boat at once faster and more energy efficient.
“Hydrofoils are basically like wings that lift the boat’s hull out of the water so it’s kind of gliding, sort of in the same way an airplane works,” said Yasmeen Qudsi, a senior instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Qudsi is Southern Solar’s faculty adviser. Dr. Jonathan Raush, an assistant professor, and John Carroll, an instructor, are co-advisers.

Beyond faculty mentorship, the project also enabled team members to consult with professionals in fields that included solar energy, naval architecture, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. Among them was alum Georges Antoun, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of Engineering in 1988, and was the driving force in the establishment of the Louisiana Solar Energy Lab.

Team member Jordan Smith found the nine-month “Beausoleil” project “really rewarding,” she said during Southern Solar’s tech talk in Monaco. As gratifying as any part of the process, which began during the Fall 2022 semester, was something that happened during on-the-water testing at Airport Lake near campus. That’s when Smith became fully aware that the team’s efforts had produced a high-performing watercraft. “As a first-year team, we started from basically nothing and we were able to ‘foil,’ which was our first real accomplishment,” she explained.

Learn more about UL Lafayette’s Southern Solar team and the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge.

Photo caption: A solar-powered boat designed and built by a team of UL Lafayette mechanical engineering students recently became the first from the U.S. to compete in the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge. The five-member Southern Solar team’s innovative vessel (foreground) was showcased during races, demonstrations and a presentation at the event Monaco, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Submitted photo