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Could an electric boat line be hot in the future?

I find it fascinating that there’s a quiet revolution taking place in batteries, and if my mind runs away with that knowledge I begin to imagine hybrid boats and even more pure electric boats in our near future!

Batteries, I find, actually go way back. The first battery became commercially available around 1865. It was a large, heavy, toxic wet cell using an electrolyte solution to work. Interestingly, go look in any boat in your showroom and you’ll see essentially the same lead acid battery! Hardly any change in battery principles in 140 years. (Dry cells did emerge at the end of the 19th century.) But today, there’s an unprecedented need for new, high tech batteries that can produce much more power and do it faster for applications such as cars and, I imagine, some boats.

We already have new, high-tech batteries. The current front runner is the lithium ion battery found in everything from toys to cell phones. But this battery is slow to discharge (or charge), good for our laptop but not for our car or electric boat. Moreover, current lithium ion technology is reportedly such that impurities can contaminate the chemicals inside, causing overheating and fire. Remember Sony’s recall of millions of batteries.

Toyota and Matsushita, for example, are teamed up to develop cars that run on newly designed lithium ion batteries. Right now, Toyota and Matsushita have a monopoly on their nickel metal-hydride battery used in the successful Toyota Prius. But for reasons of weight and durability, they’re headed toward lithium ion technology.

General Motors also reports on its website that it recognizes the changes in battery technology and has developed its Volt concept car using lithium ion batteries. Lithium ion innovations are already a reality, taking up half the space of Toyota’s nickel metal-hydride battery and weighing 60 percent less. Meanwhile, at the University of St Andrews, engineers are using a new manufacturing technique that has resulted in a prototype 1,000 times faster at discharging than conventional lithium ion batteries.

Advances in battery efficiency, especially lithium ion, are moving at light-speed now and will change the face of many things, not just cars. Could it mean more electric boats than just California’s Duffy Boats, Florida’s Vision Boat Works and Canada’s Electric Boat Co. Could it mean they can all dump their current 8-16 lead acid batteries for lithium ion batteries weighing hundred of pounds less? Will it mean a ski boat would use the power of a gas engine to pull the skiers but run on electric when it’s just cruising along for the day? Could sailboats eliminate their gas or diesel auxiliary and use electricity when not under sail? Could a bass boat run all day and then some on its trolling motor?

I can imagine a lot of things could change in boating in the future, thanks to battery advances. It’s fun to think about it.

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