ADVERTISEMENT

Uncharted waters: When hydrogen fails, the students turn to that old standby--Gasoline

Editor's Note: A team of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students are traveling up New York's Hudson River this week on the New Clermont, a 6.7-meter boat outfitted with a pair of 2.2-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cells to power the boat's motor. Their journey began September 21 from Manhattan's Pier 84 and will cover 240 kilometers (at a projected speed of 8 kilometers per hour). After making several stops along the way, the crew expects to arrive back at Rensselaer Polytech's campus in Troy, N.Y., on September 25. This is the second of Scientific American.com's blogs chronicling this expedition, called the New Clermont Project.


Rensselaer Polytech, Jenn Gagner, New ClermontNew Clermont Project team members Jenn Gagner and Jason Kumnick took the helm of the New Clermont for the second leg of the journey between Manhattan and Troy, N.Y. It was rough going for Gagner, a Rensselaer materials science and engineering grad student, and Kumnick, a Rensselaer doctoral student studying decarburization and workability of hardened steels, as the New Clermont suffered repeatedly from engine problems while traveling from Ossining, N.Y., farther up the Hudson to Beacon.Rensselaer Polytech, Jason Kumnick, New Clermont

Tuesday morning's launch may have been a harbinger of things to come. The students arrived at the boat to find that excess water needed to be siphoned from the hydrogen fuel cells (water is the cells' only output and is also used as part of the cooling system for the boat's two motors).

After shoving off, Gagner and Kumnick's progress was slowed by two problems—the strong downriver current and the failure of one of the New Clermont's motors less than three hours into the trip. The two pressed onward, running on a single motor connected to one fuel cell as they troubleshot the problems with motor number one.

Rensselaer Polytech, New Clermont, hydrogenThe New Clermont was designed to motor for about 97 kilometers in between refueling, which is done with the help of industrial gas supplier Airgas, Inc. Airgas uses a refueling truck to meet the New Clermont dockside when the boat needs to top off its hydrogen tanks. Given that the boat was running on only one motor, the students had to refuel several times throughout Tuesday's trip.

About a mile from Beacon, however, the second motor shut down as well. "We were again unsure as to the cause, as the motor did not respond when connected to either fuel cell systems or battery packs," the students blogged.

When they couldn't resurrect either motor, the students were forced to turn to their backup gas outboard, which took them the rest of the way. Without a functioning electric motor for the next leg of the trip, the students drove back to Troy Tuesday evening. They are spending today trying to fix their motor problems before the trip can resume.

Images courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article



This function is currently unavailable

X