It may not be the swankiest ride in town but - for inland waterways at the very least - it's certainly the most fuel-efficient choice for eco-conscious boaters. The Ross Barlow, the first zero-emissions hydrogen hybrid canal boat developed by University of Birmingham engineers, was unveiled this past Friday by Terry Tricker, a board member of British Waterways - the company that provided the university with the original maintenance boat.
Demonstrating the potential for magnets and fuel cell technologies to work together to power water craft, the hybrid boat was created by switching out the conventional maintenance boat's diesel engine with a zero-emissions propulsion system. A metal hydride system stores the hydrogen kept on board and provides a means of storing significant amounts of the gas at room temperature and pressure. Decreasing the system's pressure allows the gas to enter the fuel cell. The magnets - which are made out of rare earth - come into play in the boat's motor and rudder systems.
"Studies on the performance of the boat will establish the viability of hydrogen for energy storage and as a fuel. We wanted to improve the science and engineering in this field by creating a real working example of this type of transport application and to enhance the public’s understanding and acceptance of hydrogen. One of the most energy efficient means of moving goods is by canal and the threats of global warming and oil depletion are resulting in a resurgence of interest in this means of transportation," said Rex Harris, the project leader and a professor at the university's School of Engineering.
Though the boat will primarily be used as an educational tool (bummer), Harris and his colleagues are busy planning their project's next steps, which include developing a canal side hydrogen refueling infrastructure and producing hydrogen at various locations throughout the canal network. Here's hoping they do eventually allow people to take rides on it.