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New Clermont Project


Two IGERT trainees, William Gathright (founder) and Casey Hoffman, set out to demonstrate in a innovative way the potential of the use of fuel cells to the public. In late September 2009 the New Clermont sailed into the port in Albany, NY and by doing so, completed a 160 mile journey from New York City powered entirely by hydrogen. The date and journey were chosen to coincide with the 200th anniversary of maiden journey of the Clermont – the world’s first commercial steamboat. The Clermont forever revolutionized transportation and commerce by proving to the world that steam power was a viable mode of transportation. By retracing this historic voyage in a hydrogen-powered boat, the New Clermont Project raised awareness of clean energy for transportation as well as highlighted the rich history of the Hudson River.

Preparations for the journey were a showcase of interdisciplinary collaboration. Electrical, mechanical, and materials engineers collaborated on technical plans. Motors needed to be specified and mounted. Hydrogen fuel had to be stored. Fuel cell units had to be secured. Non-technical challenges proved just as daunting. Through IGERT contacts at the RPI Management School the project attracted top talent in project management, publicity, fund raising, and logistics, and had significant support from RPI, Plug Power, and Airgas. The interdisciplinary team persevered through long odds and long hours. Even as malfunctions threatened the voyage, the team had enough diversity of expertise and experience to troubleshoot and continue up the river. Motor malfunctions, overvoltages, and scheduling mishaps were each dealt with in turn in a way no single discipline could.

The Project enjoyed a great deal of media coverage as well. It was featured on every major local news channel as well as national publications such as the Scientific American Blog, the Journal of Materials, and Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Letters.

With the boat safely in port, the New Clermont team held one last event – a get together to thank the fans and supporters of the project. Standing around one table were graduate and undergraduate students from across the Institute, engineering professionals, communication professionals, and interested members of the community. Such a group would never have gathered if the interdisciplinary theme of the IGERT had not gotten them together.

Address Goals

A well-informed populace is needed to address the myriad of problems facing this nation. Too often ‘high tech’ seems far beyond the grasp of too many of the people in the country. This demonstration of a fuel cell/hydrogen powered boat is a very accessible, interesting demonstration of a technology that could aid in the more efficient use of energy in this country. As such, this effort can help to expand the scientific literacy of many people.