Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Sep 23

Students to Sail Hydrogen Powered Boat

Posted in Fuel Cells | Future Technology | Hydrogen Fuel

Hydrogen Boat A group of bright young Rensselaer students will soon take up the Hudson River, but with a difference. They are using a boat driven by clean and green hydrogen fuel. Their boat is the 22-foot New Clermont looked after by a three member crew. It is fitted with a pair of 2.2-kilowatt fuel cell units.


William Gathright who is the doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and a National Science Foundation IGERT Fellow who is also pursuing a master’s degree in management from Rensselaer’s Lally School of Management & Technology shares his views, “At its core, the New Clermont Project is about awareness. It’s a fun way to teach people about hydrogen energy. We’re high-tech environmentalists. We want to share our vision of a time when people can take a pleasure cruise on their boat, or drive to the store, without leaving a trail of pollution and toxins behind them. We hope to inspire and challenge them to think of ways of making that vision a reality.”

Their journey had begun from Pier 84 in Manhattan on September 21 and cruise at a cool 6 mph to arrive in Troy on the evening of September 25. They are planning several stops so that they can show off their precious pollution free possession to others and interact with the like minded people. They will also showcase the environmental and economic advantages involved in using hydrogen as a fuel. The project and boat also pay tribute to the world’s first commercial steamboat, the Clermont by captain Robert Fulton two hundred years ago. Incidentally the project coincides with Henry Hudson’s historic trek up 400 years ago, resulting in the river being names the Hudson River. Leah Rollhaus , a Lally School MBA student related with the project says, “Just as Robert Fulton wanted to prove to the world that steam was a viable, economical means to power boats and unleash the economic potential of our waterways, we want to open people’s eyes to the viability of hydrogen and fuel cells as a way to power boats, and one day maybe even our cars, trucks, and homes.” We can safely conclude that the New Clermont Project also makes a fine statement regarding American creativity and the rich technological history of New York State and the Hudson River.

Gathright is the main force behind this project. He brought a volunteer team of undergraduate and graduate students from a wide spectrum of academic disciplines under one umbrella. The interesting thing is New Clermont team members are not getting any course credit for the project but what can compensate for the feeling that in your own way you are doing something worthwhile for the environment.

Gathright talks about his team members, “This project, from beginning to end, has certainly been an exercise in creative problem solving. But you know what? We’re Rensselaer students. Innovating and problem solving is what we do best.” Gathright concentrated on building a sound team for his project. He ensured that his team is well represented by students from various disciplines and expertise such as materials science, engineering, electrical and systems engineering, management, and communications. They started humbly. They only had a forgotten, neglected vessel to start with. Gathright affectionately renamed it as the New Clermont. The 40-year-old sailboat is a Bristol 22, sometimes called a Bristol Caravel, and measures 22 feet from aft to bow.

They had to prepare their boat in its recent avatar by sheer grit and hard work. The steps were usual like maintenance, cleansing away two decades of soot, stains, dust and major repairs etc. Gathright and his team utilized their engineering skills to prepare the New Clermont to embrace and hold up a pair of fuel cell units. The units, included GenDrive class 3 systems credited by the students from Latham, N.Y.-based fuel cell developer Plug Power. They weigh around 500 pounds and carry the dimensions of three feet by three feet. These units were transported on the homemade mounts of the New Clermont by crane.

Fuel cell units of the New Clermont’s use compressed hydrogen gas. The fuel cell systems also contain a special membrane. This membrane is useful in separating the hydrogen into electrons and protons. The membrane allows the protons to pass through it. Electrons travel in a circuit for creating electricity. When electrons and protons come out of the membrane, they are exposed to oxygen from the ambient air; this exposure produces water and a small amount of heat. The icing on the cake is this electrochemical process is completely pollution-free.

  • Vilas Khadse

    A question how much hydrogen and oxygen will be required for the trip. How it will be carried and refueled? Since all the development of hydrogen economy depends on Refueling infrastructure. Anyway my best wishes for the expedition.

  • Boneheaded1

    My only question: How much did the fuel cells cost?

    Fuel cells are a great technology. However they are yet to be produced in even a remotely cost effective manner. The materials are too expensive. I do however, applaud their efforts to bring the discussion to the forefront. Hopefully it will inspire a few young minds who might actually develop a way to build a fuel cell that is economically viable.

  • Karloskar Hall

    Hydrogen is all well and good, but it needs to be produced and stored.

    But go boat makers!

  • Sum Dood

    I’d very much like to feel positive about this, but is there any indication of how much green / un-green energy is used when producing the hydrogen?

  • Koné Adama

    That’s the question! Is there anyone who can tell me what it’s all about the pros and cons of such revolution.

    Thanks in advance!

  • M. Kyle Jackson

    It’d be great if they could use solar for electrolytic production of Hydrogen – as electrolysis is energy-hungry.

  • David Higgins

    Don’t blow up! Have a good sail. I commend you on your efforts. Hope you have a phycisist on board. We need to reach a new era of fuel. We all know what happened the lat time. Prove history wrong!

  • Alexander Eccleston

    Good luck. I hope it runs perfect. OPEC needs to go out of business.

  • John Boston

    Is this intended to be an example of how to avoid using clean energy? It’s my understanding that the greenest way to propel a sailboat is with sailboat fuel. It doesn’t get any cleaner or more renewable than that.
    Hydrogen power will do nothing but delay the move to real renewable energy. It sounds great, but only shifts the point of pollution from the end-user to the plants that produce the hydrogen.

    I guess you could always power a sailboat with hydrogen produced with electricity from wind turbines. Oh, the irony!

  • Stacey Antilla

    Sometimes, when there is no wind, you have to run the motor. And especially when you are mooring, in case you haven’t been sailing… it can be an impossibility getting to the mooring without the motor.

  • http://vivitaylor.com Vivian Taylor

    I think hydrogen are two expensive unless the government really have some plans to reduce the cost of it… with the down economy like this it would be hard for people who don’t have money to go for stuff like this.

  • SaysMe

    Ok, they finally made the trip, but I would think again on their prosecution of operations on this voyage. These foolish students literally assembled the boat and parts and took off the next day. They absolutely did no testing of final equipment before shoving off. The tried and true steam boat made the voyage in 32 hours, these kids took nine plus days to do the same route. Does not say much for today’s engineers.

  • Bill Higdon

    Congratulations on what you have done. This is similar to my own plans for a green sailboat, but I will use technologies my company is developing, as well as hemp fiber instead of glass, and whatever else I can come up with to reduce the carbon footprint. Should anyone at AE read this, I hope they can connect us.

  • The Wise One

    Nobody gets it yet…hydrogen fuel cell technology is the future and it is renewable as well as abundant unlike oil… Oil will not last forever, the government refuses to admit it because the Oil companies still want to make profit, but we are running out of oil, doesn’t take a genius to foresee the future global economic collapse.

    1. There’s not enough oil.
    2. Oil is NOT renewable.
    3. People need to wake up and stop listening to the lies coming from the Oil companies… Hydrogen fuel cell technology can save the economy for many reasons including the ones I mentioned earlier.

    It’s sad that the majority of the public doesn’t take hydrogen fuel cell technology seriously… they believe oil is going to last forever for some reason.

  • The Wise One

    Oh yes, we’re consuming oil faster than it is being collected. And the places we’re collecting oil from are limited as well as non-renewable… But hey, more power to the incompetent people who want the global economy to collapse before mass-producing hydrogen fuel cell technology.

    P.S. Hybrid technology is delaying the necessary transition to hydrogen fuel, at least it’s progress, in the past the oil companies completely banned hybrid technology. Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been around since the 70’s…but our ignorance has kept it from being used like it should be.

  • The Wise One

    btw Vivian Taylor, hydrogen fuel cells are not expensive to produce, it’s cheap and effective. Stop listening to the oil companies and paid off politicians.

  • wayne leathers

    Thanks Wise One, but please explane your meanings, in $ terms of “not expensive, cheap and effective”.
    I look forward to getting enlightened!


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