Can a boat use raw seawater as its only fuel?

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Bill McGill and Traver Kennedy

A chance encounter nine years ago on a commercial flight led MarineMax to invest in a technology that its chairman calls a “game-changer.”

MarineMax chairman and CEO Bill McGill is not known for making wild claims or investing serious resources into a technology that seems more at home on a spaceship than a powerboat. But MarineMax is the first licensee for Joi Scientific’s Hydrogen 2.0 production technology, which McGill believes will transform the boating industry — and possibly the world of maritime transportation.

“One of my executives heard about this new technology from the gentleman who discovered it, on a flight,” McGill, a former engineer who worked on NASA’s space station project, told Trade Only Today. “My first reaction was that it was impossible. But then we went out to see it, and it turns out it really does work.”

That was nine years ago. After a decade of R&D, Joi Scientific has come up with a working prototype that extracts hydrogen directly from raw seawater at the point of use.

“Our technology will power boats, yachts and ships with direct-combustion engines, hybrid electric or fuel cells that convert the hydrogen to power,” said Traver Kennedy, CEO of Joi Scientific, which is based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “The boat is literally running in its fuel.”

McGill’s skepticism about the technology was echoed by scientists who said it was impossible, but, McGill said, they were also convinced after seeing the technology in action. McGill sees Hydrogen 2.0 as the future for not only powering recreational boats, but also commercial vessels.

The company says that the modular unit, which likely would be positioned in a boat’s bilge so it does not impact the center of gravity, will work with gas and diesel engines, generators and other forms of marine propulsion.

“With just slight modifications, outboards that run on gas can be converted to hydrogen, and you have many generators also running on hydrogen,” McGill said. “This system produces hydrogen on demand from salt water, and if you’re running in fresh water, you just add some salt to the module to get it to work.”

The system emits no carbon because it does not involve combustion of hydrocarbons, and when used with fuel cells, there is no noise. “You could potentially scale it from auxiliary power for boats at anchor to powering the main engines,” Kennedy said.

Does it sound too good to be true?

McGill said the technology is “not just something where you turn on a switch and it starts working tomorrow.” It will take several years of development.

“We’re going to put the resources we need to improve the prototypes and working units to get it to the next level,” McGill said. “We’ve had many discussions with engine builders and others, and there is big interest across the industry. We’ve established partnerships with boatbuilders to develop the applications on boats.”

Kennedy did not go into great detail about the actual workings of the technology but said the system will comprise modular units. “Depending on how much energy a vessel needs, we can shape the actual module or add different numbers,” he said. “Essentially, we’re taking seawater in its natural state and running it through a large object that is similar to a coffee filter. That transitions the water directly into hydrogen gas.”

Kennedy partnered with MarineMax because the mega-dealer understands the “fragmented” nature of the marine industry. McGill is already looking beyond recreational marine to the commercial marine sectors and even to such industries as fish farming to apply the technology. Part of the licensing agreement includes the right to manufacture the modular system.

“This could be a world-changer in many ways,” McGill said. “You wouldn’t need a fuel tank on the boat with this system. Think of how that would fundamentally change boat design, both in opening up storage areas and saving on weight. Or how about never having to go to a fuel dock again — how great would that be?” 


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