Earth Talk – hybrid engines for boats

The boating industry is making efforts to offer a greener product.

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    The EPIC23E, produced by EPIC Wakeboats of San Diego, is billed as 'the world's first electric hybrid sport boat.' It has an electric motor whose lithium-ion batteries can be recharged by an onboard gasoline-powered generator or at the dock. Base price: $72,500.
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Q: I’ve heard that hybrid engine technology is now being used to power boats. What’s happening with that?
– D. Smith, Portland, Maine

A: With concerns about climate change and the world’s imperiled oceans and waterways at an all-time high, it makes sense that the boating industry would be looking into greener ways to try to do its part and to attract some of those increasing numbers of environmentally conscious customers.

Americans spend 500 million hours zipping around in recreational boats each year. But, until recently, the engines on these boats were held to much lower efficiency standards than their automotive counterparts. Last year the US Environmental Protection Agency announced new, more stringent emissions standards for marine engines – both in-board and outboard – that will go into effect in 2010. In fact, several hybrid boats are already on the market, boasting emission ratings well below the new standards.

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The 24-foot Endeavour Green Electric Hybrid can run all day on an electric charge that costs only 11 cents and generates no emissions, kicking into a small diesel generator only if the boat’s eight batteries are depleted. And when owners can charge the batteries via solar or wind power, the boats have zero carbon footprint. Florida-based Craig Catamaran Corp. last year launched a hybrid version of its compact catamaran-style speedboat. The sporty little two-seater, which is light enough to be towed by a Mini Cooper or Smart car, can run for eight hours on less than a gallon of gas, and costs about $6,000.

For those looking for a larger, more luxurious ride, the 25-foot Frauscher hybrid might be just the ticket. The speedy $155,000 Austrian-built pleasure boat combines an electric engine with a 256 horsepower Steyr diesel motor to allow for emissions-free harbor cruising or high-octane speeding across open water.

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge on a hybrid boat yourself, check out one in action on your next visit to San Francisco. The recently retrofitted Hornblower ferry to Alcatraz and Angel islands is powered by several alternative energy sources, including a hybrid diesel-electric system powered by solar cells and wind turbines right on deck.

Alcatraz Cruises, the private company that runs the service, says that the Hornblower is the first hybrid ferry boat in the country. The 64-foot vessel has an advanced power management system that regulates when and how the different power sources are used so it can make best use of its energy and minimize emissions. Passengers can see many of the technological advances on the vessel, making for not only a fun and scenic ride but also an educational one.

In another development, the US Navy has reportedly contracted with Solomon Technologies, makers of the famous Zodiac line of rugged inflatable boats, to create a series of hybrid boats where fuel efficiency and stealthy (quiet) passage is of paramount importance. Recreationists, pacifists, and Greenpeace antiwhaling activists alike may get the chance to check one out soon, too, as Solomon is already looking into incorporating hybrid technologies into its recreational and commercial product lines as well.

Questions about living green? Send to: EarthTalk, c/o E - The Environmental Magazine, Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com.

Editor’s note: For more articles about the environment, see the Monitor’s main environment page, which offers information on many environment topics. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.

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