May 11

unknown-1.jpgIt had to happen sooner or later. Batteries just won’t cut it. When you have a perpetual incoming stream of photovoltaic power, with nowhere to go after you have filled the batteries, some serious naval gazing was inevitable. We already have an electric powered boat, ready for a hydrogen fuel cell to feed . We already have a huge photovoltaic supply of free electricity. The batteries, even several tonnes of the very best Lithium batteries, can be filled and emptied at an alarmingly impractical rate. You can’t just keep adding tonnes more lithium batteries; it will eventually weigh the boat down, this is a boat, not a submarine. But unlike just about any other means of transport, including trains and planes, buses and cars….. boats are unique. Boats are not restricted in width by rail gauges or road rules. Boats can easily support huge photovoltaic arrays…especially if you design the boat from the water up, to be a giant solar array. This is TRYBRID.

So it has begun. TRYBRID is going to not only use hydrogen as a fuel store, it’s going to make its own hydrogen, using the free solar electrical source, through electrolysis, to make then compress hydrogen into a series of carbon wrapped, high pressure storage cylinders.. There is no rocket science here. There is no equipment to invent. It’s an ‘off the shelf’ plan…which we qualify by saying upfront, that the hydrogen equipment we need is both expensive and new, and only found on a few ‘shelves’ here and there around the world.

We were a bit astonished to realize that such a plan, namely to create a means of transport that manufactures its own fuel aside of using it, makes the TRYBRID almost unique in the history of long distance mechanized transport. It would be fair to say, that whilst entirely possible, there will be a lot of design learning ahead, through this project. It would also be fair to suggest, that viewed from a 2020 perspective, there is little doubt that the deployment of hydrogen powering systems in 2009/10 will be fraught with less than optimum gear, as is the case, when they invented the first automobile. But the planet can’t wait until oil runs out, or CO2 wrecks the weather, and many of us, here on this small planet, must start bringing together the available 2008 technology to demonstrate that hydrogen is a viable fuel source now. It may be clunky and expensive, but it obviously works driving buses and cars now,  so the next step is to add self-production electrolyzes on board, to close the loop on energy use and production, and create an unique working example that you can see, feel and touch.

At the start of this process, we have plan that may indeed change as we progress our engineering exploration through 2008. The plan proposes to maximize the photovoltaic sources, with added solar cells and likely added wind turbines. Before the hydrogen plan, we had little use for the energy made at anchor. With hydrogen generators aboard, bubbling away to make hydrogen, we then need to compress the gas, and store it high pressures, at pressures maybe twice as high as you would use in recreation diving, and using light, carbon fibre wrapped ‘sausage’ shaped canisters.

The hydrogen gas, whether, made onboard, or delivered by tanker, can then be used to make electric power to drive the propeller via a fuel cell. The hydrogen could be burnt, with less efficiency, in normal combustion engines. It can also be used in the onboard diesel to improve their combustion burn, and reduce its emissions. Whether we will be able to use the hydrogen at full throttle for many days is unlikely, but we are about to find out, just what can be done with 2008 technology onboard.

Safety is indeed a big issue, but hydrogen is certainly not as volatile as say petrol vapour, and unlike the gases that have traditionally leaked into boat bilges, and then blown them sky high, hydrogen is lighter than air, and thankfully drifts upwards, not downwards. If TRYBRID is going to become a demonstration platform for hydrogen introduction, it will need to be meticulous on safety, as any explosion would do damage to both the boat and the industry, something neither the project nor the hydrogen industry can sustain. That said, hydrogen is currently powering public transport, so we are in a workable field.

We are, here in May 2008 at the threshold of this design. For the record, let’s record the way we will proceed as we see it now. Firstly, we will electrolyze hydrogen gas using the sub 25KW PV and wind turbine power we have available. Whether the gas then needs to be compressed, or whether we will use the Avalence hydrogen generators that make the gas already compressed, we will have to see. Our goal will be to use the gear that can produce the hydrogen for the least electrical energy…constrained by weight and size. We will likely store the hydrogen in carbon wrapped cylinders at pressures over 5000psi, and we would hope to store maybe 250kg of hydrogen, in maybe 30 3m by 0.5m canisters at weight penalty of maybe 7 tonnes (nearly all in the canister weight), and we aim to offset this 7 tonnes through a reduction in the 4 tonne battery bank, and a reduction in diesel and diesel tanks. If we can balance the books here, in terms of weight, we will be happy.

Whether we deploy the very expensive fuel cell at a size capable of pushing the boat at a speed of over 20 knots, or whether we will use hydrogen for speeds below 10 knots and below 50-100kw of power use, will soon become apparent. The purpose of this project is as much about the journey as the destination. We are all bound on this planet, to a low carbon future, and we are all about to take this journey in one form or another. So join the journey. Stay tuned to this project’s progress, and the doco’ being made to record the journey.

56 Responses

  1. Tim Levy, General Manager, SEES Ltd Says:

    Rod,

    Marvellous work – and I know that I ‘m biased – but way to go! All it takes is the vision and rest starts to fall into place. Congrats on the first self-energised closed-system vessel in the world!

    Tim

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