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Duffy Fuel Cell Boat

Duffy Fuel Cell Boat By Capt. Bill Pike — January 2004

Believe It or Not!
An electric launch that runs on salt and water!
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Duffy
• Part 2: Duffy
• Duffy Specs
• Duffy Acceleration Curve
• Duffy Photo Gallery

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• Boat Test Index

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Anuvu Fuel Cell Products
• Duffy Boats
• Millennium Cell

I wrote a test report some while ago about a Duffy-Herreshoff 30 (“Picnic Passage,” July 2002), a classic electric launch with an internal-combustion-type generator/battery/electric-motor powerplant roughly analogous to those found in today’s hybrid electric cars. The futuristic Herreshoff made an impressive sea-trial showing. Among other things, her battery-charging Northern Lights genset boosted her half-throttle operating range by almost 50 percent, from approximately 65 miles under electric power alone to something like 95 miles in hybrid mode. Compelling stuff from the marine-technology standpoint, for sure.

But after the trial, something truly wild happened. I discovered during a plant tour that the little company was stealthily working on a hydrogen fuel-cell-powered version of the 30, perhaps with a tank of compressed hydrogen as a fuel source—or maybe with something else, something so radical no one would even talk about it.

I subsequently tracked the project with a hound dog’s diligence, and recently the folks at Duffy let me know they’d be introducing a fuel-cell-powered Herreshoff at the World Maritime Technology Exposition in San Francisco. The boat would transport attendees around the bay, thereby validating Duffy’s developmental efforts as well as the efforts of other contributors. These include Anuvu Fuel Cell Products, which had contributed an 8-hp PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel-cell “stack” to the project; Millennium Cell, which had contributed a Hydrogen-on-Demand system (the “radical something” the folks at Duffy had refused to talk about); and a host of other players and payers, including California State University at Long Beach, the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and an outfit called Seaworthy Systems, noted for its expertise in marine engineering, naval architecture, and overall marine project oversight.

A week before the Herreshoff hit the road for San Francisco, I spent a day onboard, examining the powerplant and exercising it on the waterways of Newport Beach, California, Duffy’s homeport. Because I arrived extra early at Duffy’s waterfront facility, I decided to find the test boat on my own, there being nobody else around to guide me at the time. My plan shortly began to falter, though. The fuel cell Duffy was darn near impossible to locate because she looked so much like the 20 or so other Duffys on hand. Finally, however, I stumbled across a Herreshoff with two little differences: a clear Plexiglas engine hatch instead of a fiberglass one, and a VHF-size, helm-mounted touchpad.

I peered through the hatch like a sorcerer’s apprentice looking into a crystal ball, examining an array of components that resembled the parts of a souped-up, stainless steel air conditioning unit. I was scratching my head and mumbling to myself when the three guys who’d been closest to the development and construction of the boat arrived: Marshall Duffield, president of Duffy Boats; Lyn Cowgill, R&D president for Anuvu Fuel Cell; and Mike Strizki, senior lead scientist for Millennium Cell. We opened the hatch, and Cowgill began telling me about “the next generation in marine propulsion technology.”

Our test boat was equipped with four 15-pound Anuvu Power-X fuel cells, each capable of generating 1.5 kW, or the equivalent of 2 hp. They were assembled side by side into a 60-pound, 8-hp fuel-cell stack and positioned against the forward engine room bulkhead. Heavy-gauge wiring interconnected the negative terminal of the stack, the positive terminal of the stack, a 20-hp electric motor in the bottom of the boat (linked to a three-blade prop), a rheostat-type speed control (throttle), and an energy-stowage bank of eight Trojan batteries—half the number found on the hybrid version, which emphasizes batteries over internal combustion for power.

The PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) cells in our stack worked like others of the type. Hydrogen gas entered on the anodic (negative) side, splitting into two hydrogen ions and two electrons, thanks to a platinum catalyst bonded to a special, semipermeable membrane. The ions moved through the membrane and gathered on the cathodic side, creating a positive charge there and leaving the negatively charged electrons behind. Voltage ensued due to the charge difference across the membrane.

Next page > Part 2: Sound levels were generally lower than the hybrid’s, and operating efficiencies were higher. > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

This article originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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