Yamaha’s Hydrogen Experiment

Yamaha’s Hydrogen Experiment

Yamaha builds the first-ever recreational hydrogen-powered outboard.
Will it fly?

Remember when two-strokes ruled the waters and pre-fuel injection four-strokes were a leery choice often riddled with chronic carburetor issues? Hint: It was around the same time you threw out your cassettes and started listening to your favorite songs via newfangled CD’s (which by now have probably ended up at the same dump as your two-stroke). Then along came the clean-burning Yamaha F9.9A. First unveiled in 1984, it was a four-stroke, 232cc 9.9 horsepower engine that, coupled with stricter emission laws, would change the trajectory of engine demands for the decades that followed. Fast forward to today. While our waters are ruled by four-stroke, gasoline-injected, internal combustion engines that burn orders of magnitude cleaner and get up to 50 percent better fuel economy than most two-strokes, there might be a new clean burn contender on the horizon.

Times change and technology follows suit. So, it should come as no surprise that this year, Yamaha intends to shake things up again with the release of the first ever hydrogen powered outboard for recreational use. As part of Yamaha’s 2035/2050 goal of carbon neutrality, the company has committed to exploring the future of outboard fuels. Use of batteries and electric propulsion, as things currently stand, do not approach the range offered by internal combustion propulsion, Director of Affairs for Yamaha U.S. Marine Business unit Martin Peters notes.

“If we continue to use combustion engines, we’re going to need to use fuels that are more sustainable in some way as we get to carbon neutral, and one of those is hydrogen,” Peters says. “Hydrogen has been around as a fuel for a really long time, it’s been used in lots of applications and it’s something that we need to explore because it can be produced as green hydrogen, it can be fully carbon neutral and it can be burned in an internal combustion engine, so we’re pursuing it.”

The result of Yamaha’s pursuit, which incorporates the engineering hands of Roush Industries, is something that on the outside, looks physically similar to their XTO 450. That is, until you see the three massive tanks that deliver hydrogen to said engine.

“So, this boat has three type 4 carbon overwrapped tanks that are holding the hydrogen equivalent to what would be 25 gallons of gasoline,” Vice President of Advanced Engineering for Roush, Matt Van Benschoten says, commenting on their prototype setup in a modified Regulator 26XO center console hull. “Certainly, it’s less than this boat delivers with gasoline, with about 100-gallon fuel tank, so significantly less—you’ll see the challenge there. These tanks store hydrogen at 700bar (a measurement equivalent to 10,000 PSI) so it’s a pretty high-pressure system.” It’s so much pressure in fact, that many boaters might question the relative safety of using a hydrogen-tanked outboard system. And while Yamaha reminds fairly tight lipped about the topic, they’re steadfast in insisting that the safety testing that has gone into this prototype is exhaustive.

As it is, the Regulator prototype leaves the range the hydrogen can provide to around 50 nautical miles, a number that the Yamaha/Roush duo hopes to surpass as they gear up for public performance testing within the next six months.

And while extending range is a constant concern, Yamaha is more focused on the development of the infrastructure needed to support hydrogen refueling. As Peters puts it, there are some interesting things happening that support the building of necessary infrastructure. “If you think about the commercial ports for shipping goods, it’s pretty clear that they want to have hydrogen not to power large vessels but the vehicles that haul freight in and out of those port facilities,” he says, adding that in the state of Georgia, Hyundai is developing a hydrogen fuel-cell truck while Georgia Power is working on a hydrogen station to fuel those future vehicles. And the plan, like Yamaha’s, is that they will achieve carbon neutrality at their facility that builds batteries in South Georgia. “So, you get to the point where you’re not only considering the carbon created by the product you produce but also the carbon created by moving it from place to place and moving the materials and supplies that are necessary. It gets to be about decarbonizing the supply chain and that’s what’s driving the infrastructure here in Georgia,” Peters adds.

Hydrogen fueling infrastructure is not only a hot topic in America but in Europe as well, as Zaha Hadid Architects and NatPower H have invested 100 million Euros into a project to build hydrogen boating refueling stations across 25 Italian marinas and ports within the next six years. By the time you’re reading this article, the first station of this project should be open at the Marina Sant’Elena in Venice.

Speaking in more immediate terms, while hydrogen stations won’t exist in the near future in the U.S., nor are there any set plans to build them, mobile hydrogen trailers will be available dockside for Yamaha’s testing. Peters also believes it’ll be highly plausible that offshore fueling vessels will come into play.

From the perspective of energy density, versus batteries and gasoline, the output of hydrogen is greater, as just 2.2 pounds of hydrogen contains as much energy as 6.2 pounds of gasoline (one gallon), and it produces 142Mj of energy per kilogram compared to 1.8Mj per kilogram in a lithium battery. Based on numbers like these alone, it’s clear the potential for hydrogen energy is great. And, as Peters notes, unlike hydrogen powered boats, a battery-weighted, electrified vessel requires lots of energy to get up on plane. So, while lithium may have its place in the decarbonized future, one might wonder if its trajectory may be more like the 8-track’s. But, of course, only time will tell.

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This article originally appeared in the June/July 2024 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

Source: https://www.powerandmotoryacht.com/boats/yamahas-hydrogen-experiment

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