This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

March 14, 2007

Bad Props Threaten Record Attempt by Biodiesel-Fueled Boat

Photo of a futuristic bullet-shaped ship plying the ocean with two large outriggers and two large tail fins.

The biodiesel-fueled Earthrace is capable of high speeds but is now limping to port, not because of the fuel, but because of failing propellers.
Credit: Jim Burkett and Earthrace

A futuristic speed boat fueled entirely with biodiesel left the island of Barbados in the Caribbean Sea on March 10th on its bid to circle the world in less than 65 days, but as of March 13th, it was struggling to reach its first port in Panama. The Earthrace boat, described by its inventors as a wave-piercing trimaran, is constructed of carbon and tevlar composites with a sleek, hydrodynamic shape stabilized by two outriggers. It also employs carbon composites for its propellers, and that technology appears to be the boat's Achilles' heel. On March 11th, the crew noticed unusual vibrations and traced them to the props, which had delaminated and started to fail. The crew cut the speed by half and still hoped to make it to Panama.

On the afternoon of March 13th, the boat was northeast of the Panama Canal and appeared likely to make it into port, while the support team was struggling to obtain new props and get them delivered to Panama in time for the boat's arrival. If they make it, there's still a chance that the boat can continue its attempt to circle the world in less than 74 days, the record set by a British team in 1998. The crew might also choose to restart their record attempt in Panama. See the press releases on the Earthrace Web site; the current location of the boat, provided by Daestra New Zealand Ltd.; and the latest crew blogs and other information on the race, posted on Discovery Communications' Turbo Web site.

Meanwhile, another new "green" boat is heading up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers on its way to its eventual home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Explorer features the first commercial implementation of a hybrid propulsion system designed by Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc., allowing the boat to run on all-electric power for short periods. The boat's owners plan to fuel its backup diesel engine with a biodiesel fuel blend. Its designers also worked with green builders to try to incorporate LEED green building standards into its construction. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and although it is an accepted standard for green buildings, its principles are new to the marine industry. Along with sustainable construction materials, the boat incorporates energy efficient windows; a well-insulated hull and deck; a system to recover heat from its engine; a smaller-than-normal chiller system; efficient lighting; and water-efficient toilets and plumbing fixtures. The Explorer will serve as a floating classroom for RiverQuest, a non-profit educational organization. See the RiverQuest Web site and description of the ship's LEED features (PDF 141 KB). Download Adobe Reader.