HaveBlue Tests Hydrogen-Powered Boat
07 March 2004
Author: Deborah Crowe
Provider: Ventura County Star, Calif.
Mar. 7--Aside from the sponsorship logos adorning its hull, the HaveBlue X/V-1 demonstration vessel doesn't look much different than any other 42-foot Catalina yacht docked at Ventura Harbor.
But start the propeller to ease out to sea for a day of sailing and it's obvious something is missing: the noise and smell of a diesel engine.
The electric motor behind the stairs next to the galley emits the muffled whine of a golf cart.
What's more, the cabin's rich wood paneling and midnight blue cushions retain a distinctive brand-new smell, more than 18 months after the boat was launched.
Now powered by alternative sources, the X/V-1's electric motor is soon expected to literally run on water.
Oxnard-based HaveBlue LLC has patented an onboard system enabling sea water to be converted to hydrogen fuel.
The company said the technology eliminates air emissions and oil-spill risks associated with diesel engines.
"While the auto industry waits for hydrogen 'gas' stations, this is a vessel that will be floating on its own fuel source," said Craig Schmitman, president of HaveBlue.
HaveBlue's system is scheduled to begin sea trials this summer and could expand the options for clean, renewable energy for vessels, from recreational sailboats to small law enforcement or naval boats, Schmitman said.
"It basically can set a sailboat free from having to come to shore to fuel up," he said.
A hydrogen fuel cell stack would join a host of other clean-energy sources that have become standard on modern recreational boats, such as photovoltaic solar panels and mini windmills.
"Sailors tend to be environmentally conscious," said Gerry Douglas, vice president and chief of engineering of Catalina Yachts, which supplied the demonstration vessel in exchange for initial exclusive rights to use the technology on its boats. "We were intrigued by the technology and wanted to be a part of it."
How does the system work? Water is drawn and purified with on-board "water makers" --already featured on some high-end boats -- which creates potable water.
Electrical current from a solar- or wind-powered electrolysis unit separates the water's oxygen and hydrogen molecules, storing the latter in the hydrogen fuel cell stack.
The electricity generated by the fuel cells can be used directly or stored in a bank of batteries.
The company also plans to offer a cheaper system that is slightly less clean and efficient.
The fuel cells will be replaced with an internal combustion engine, creating a system similar to those in hybrid gas-and-electric cars.
The hydrogen fuel cell stack can move the propeller's motor and power batteries that run navigational equipment and other electrical equipment like the galley microwave.
HaveBlue has been spending the past several months testing various configurations of electric motors, batteries, wind generators, solar cells and propellers to obtain maximum efficiency.
The fuel cell component is scheduled to be installed by late spring or early summer.
If the summer trials go well, Schmitman hopes to begin taking orders later this year for a limited-edition production run that could be delivered to owners in 2005.
Woodland Hills-based Catalina is among the most prominent sponsors and gave the project much-needed validation in the sailing community.
"They're not known for doing radical things, so for Catalina to come on board this project was a real vote of confidence," said Schmitman. Other names on the X/V-1's hull include companies well-known in the industry, such as Raymarine and Rutland Windchargers.
Texaco Ovonic Hydrogen Systems has signed on to provide the storage tanks, and Schmitman hopes to have a deal finalized in a few weeks with a fuel cell manufacturer.
"A project like this needs sponsors as well as initial investors to get it launched, but fortunately an environmentally friendly project like this is seen as a great branding opportunity," said Schmitman, who expects it will take close to $1 million in cash and in-kind investment to get the system ready for production.
The X/V-1 has attracted attention in Ventura County's sailing community, as well as at boat shows.
"This is one of the more interesting boats in the U.S. right now," said Ventura resident Tom Gardner, whose 30-foot Ericson sailboat used to be the X/V-1's neighbor at the Pierpont Bay Yacht Club. The Catalina now is docked at the north end of Ventura Harbor Village.
Not that Gardner is ready to trade in his Ericson anytime soon.
A hydrogen-powered yacht will cost more than double the typical $205,000 base price for a two-cabin Catalina like the X/V-1.
HaveBlue's technology upgrade is expected to add $300,000 to $500,000 to the price.
But as production increases, Schmitman said the additional expense could drop to about $40,000, using the above example, by 2008 or 2010.
Schmitman notes that many boat owners spend more improving a new vessel's emission system and adding other upgrades.
"Look at it right now as the difference between a $20,000 Dodge sedan and a $84,000 Dodge Viper," said Schmitman.
He pointed out that the company's Web site waiting list for first crack at putting down a deposit nearly matches projected first-year production numbers.
Ironically, Schmitman isn't a yacht owner, although he has crewed boats for years.
The pilot, former professional photographer and self-described technology geek said he began considering the hydrogen fuel's potential at sea in 1998 after meeting a media buyer for a company that advocated the technology for automobiles.
"The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, while I couldn't solve the problem of supplying fuel for cars, it might be possible to solve it in boats," he said.
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(c) 2004, Ventura County Star, Calif. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.