Emission-Free Sea Travel Is Already A Reality Thanks To Electric Boats.
The need to reduce noise and pollution as well as the technology's promise of being less expensive to operate and simpler to maintain have all contributed to the rise in popularity of electric propulsion for boats in recent years. According to research issued in June by the company Industry Research, sales of electric outboard motors in the United States are anticipated to nearly double over the next five years, rising from $63 million in sales this year to $120 million in 2024. Another indication of the growing popularity of electric propulsion is the fact that when Greta Thunberg, a teenage climate activist, arrived in New York Harbor in the summer of 2019 after sailing across the Atlantic, boats equipped with electric motors made by the technology's manufacturer, Torqeedo, met her sailboat and helped it dock.
A Technology Not So New
In fact, the first electric motor for a boat was installed in a 24-foot naval sloop by an inventor by the name of Boris Semonovitch Iakobi in the late 1830s. This motor used power from a battery pack to turn paddle wheels. According to Kevin Desmond's book "Electric Boats and Ships: A History," the vessel was renamed the Elekrokhod and underwent a test on the Neva River while others developed the technology. In the late 1800s, electric boats gained popularity. At the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893, tourists could ride in electric-powered launches for 25 cents. But much as the development of the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine eliminated the need for early electric cars, gasoline-powered pleasure boats replaced them as the norm on the water. However, electric propulsion remained a viable option, as this 1975 "Popular Mechanics" article praising the benefits of "boating without buying gasoline" demonstrates.
Rising gas prices were only one of the problems of outboard motors driven by petroleum. Inboard motor-powered pleasure boats were using 1.6 billion gallons of gasoline annually and releasing enormous amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere by the late 20th century. According to the website of the environmental organization Sailors for the Sea, the conventional motors were incredibly inefficient, with 20 to 30% of their fuel either passing through the combustion chamber unburned or only half consumed and being discharged directly into the air and sea. The pollution produced by one of those outboard motors running for an hour was equivalent to driving a car 800 kilometers.
Manufacturers were forced to create cleaner gasoline-powered outboard motors by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's stricter pollution rules, which were phased in from 1998 to 2006. However, even with less pollution, boaters were still exposed to harmful noise levels. When Andy Rebele, the founder of Pure Watercraft, decided to purchase a recreational boat a few years ago, he saw these issues right away. Rebele is a former competitive college rower and coach who also started an internet auction business and became an angel investor. He was shocked to discover that the gasoline-powered outboard engine was noisy and unreliable. Basically, he claims, gas propulsion is the cause of all boat problems.
Rebele made the decision to go electric instead, but was disappointed to learn that the possibilities at the time could only travel at a speed of 5 mph. Rebele remembers wondering, "How come a Tesla can travel 120 miles per hour. Rebele founded Pure Watercraft in 2011 and then spent several years developing a system that includes high-performance batteries coupled with a powerful, lightweight motor and controller, capitalizing on technological advancements made for electric cars. "The electric propulsion boat companies didn't have any answers, but I knew it had to be possible," Rebele said. He claims that gas-powered motor businesses, in contrast, use leftovers from the 1950s' automobile industry.
In September 2019, Pure Watercraft shipped its first products to consumers. In addition to the $14,500 for the batteries and engine, the system also costs $2,000 for a charging apparatus. A normal boat, such as a fishing boat or a rigid inflatable, will go at roughly 25 miles per hour with the Pure Watercraft motor, according to Rebele. Although it's nearly difficult to build a boat that is completely silent once wind and waves are taken into account, the motor has also been built to be as quiet as feasible.
Burning Gasoline Harms Us And Our Environment
The potential for electric outboard motors to reduce pollution is enormous. After instance, the website Fueleconomy.gov maintained by the U.S. government estimates that every gallon of gasoline burnt releases 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A boat's carbon footprint won't be totally eliminated even if it switches to electric propulsion unless the batteries are charged with electricity produced from renewable sources that don't consume any fossil fuels. Additionally, as Rebele points out, electric propulsion lessens additional outboard motor pollution that is detrimental to human health and the environment.
A northern California rowing association, one of Pure Watercraft's first clients, intends to swap out the gasoline motors on its eight coaching launches. This will remove as much non-CO2 pollution as removing 1,000 cars off the road, including particles, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides that contribute to smog and acid rain. The ability to modernize older boats is another benefit of electric outboard engines. In this video from the American Society of Naval Engineers, a mahogany craft constructed in 1929 is propelled by a Pure Watercraft outboard motor.