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A zero-emission hydrogen hybrid canal boat developed by engineers at the University of Birmingham will be unveiled by Terry Tricker, Board Member of British Waterways, at 11.30am on Friday 21st September at The Mailbox canal side.  The boat, called The Ross Barlow, is fully operational and demonstrates how a combination of magnet and fuel cell technologies could be used to power inland waterways craft.

The Ross Barlow has been created by converting a standard maintenance boat which was donated to the University by British Waterways.  The diesel engine has been removed and replaced by a zero emission propulsion system and the central part of the boat has been converted into a covered demonstration area.

The hydrogen is stored on board in a large scale metal hydride storage system which was developed by the Birmingham group with Swiss collaborators at EMPA Laboratories in Zurich.  This provides an effective means of storing large amounts of hydrogen at room temperature and at a modest pressure (around 10 bar).  The hydrogen is released from the hydride by decreasing the pressure, providing the fuel cell with an ultra pure source of hydrogen. The metal hydride power weighs 130kgs and is thought to be the only store of its kind in the UK. 

Rare earth magnets are used in the highly efficient motor system and rudder system.  There is a synergy between the magnets and hydrogen as they are manufactured by a hydrogen based process invented by the Birmingham research group.

Professor Rex Harris, project leader from the School of Engineering’s Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science at the University, says, ‘It is widely recognised that the world has no more than twenty years to meet the urgent challenges of climate change and oil depletion.  Much can be gained from the operation of hydrogen-based demonstrators and the canal boat project represents one step in the journey towards a hydrogen society.’

Renewable electricity can be stored as hydrogen by splitting water by electrolysis.  Hydrogen can subsequently be converted back to electricity and water by using a gas turbine or fuel cell.  Green hydrogen is considered a clean fuel as it has a minimum impact on the environment and could reduce the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. 

Professor Rex Harris continues, ‘Studies on the performance of the boat will establish the viability of hydrogen for energy storage and as a fuel.  We wanted to improve the science and engineering in this field by creating a real working example of this type of transport application and to enhance the public’s understanding and acceptance of hydrogen. 

 ‘One of the most energy efficient means of moving goods is by canal and the threats of global warming and oil depletion are resulting in a resurgence of interest in this means of transportation.’

Longer terms aims of the project include the development of a canal side hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and to generate green hydrogen on suitable sites throughout the canal network.

The boat will also be used as an educational tool.  It features an LCD screen which displays information about sustainable technologies involving hydrogen and magnets and how these new technologies come together on the boat. 

Professor Harris says, ‘We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to start investing heavily in future sustainable energy supplies.  However resource depletion and climate change cannot be solved purely by the introduction of new technologies  We must all make real and lasting changes to our lifestyles in order to save this precious planet.’


Notes to Editors

1. The Ross Barlow Hydrogen Hybrid Canal Boat Launch Event

Friday 21st September 2007, The Mailbox (Suffolk Street Queensway, Birmingham), canal side by The Oriental restaurant.

11.30am Arrival canal side

11.40am Speeches and official launch

12.00pm Drinks reception and lunch, including display

You are invited to send a representative.  Please call the press office if you would like to attend.

2. Beacon Energy Ltd based in Loughborough, Leicestershire are a source of green hydrogen for the boat.  The company’s objectives are to demonstrate and promote sustainability, to promote public awareness about global warming and to encourage the reduction of CO2 emissions.  No fossil fuels are used in the generation of green hydrogen  – it is generated by electrolysis using wind turbines.  For further information visit

3. Naming the boat The Ross Barlow

Ross Barlow was a postgraduate student who worked on the Hydrogen Hybrid Canal Boat project in its early stages and was an enthusiastic supporter of sustainable energy.  Ross also helped out with many community projects in the Birmingham area.  Tragically he was killed in a hang gliding accident in March 2005 at the age of 25.  With strong support from his family, it was decided to name the boat after him as a lasting tribute to a remarkable young man.

4. A hybrid system consists of a permanent magnet motor, battery, metal hydride store, fuel cell combination.  The fuel cell used on the boat is a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell. 

5. Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced from a renewable source such as solar and/or wind.

6. Donors who have helped to fund the project are as follows:

Advantage West Midlands

Beacon Energy Ltd

Black Country Housing Association


British Waterways

Bryte Energy

EMPA Switzerland

European Commission

Less Common Metals


Solar Boat Company


TRW Birmingham

University of Birmingham

University of Sheffield

And the following individuals:

Mr Michael Rawlinson

Mr John McConnell

Mrs Jane Tyler

Professor Rex Harris

Professor Ian Dillamore

7. The University of Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus is situated next to the Birmingham to Worcester canal where the canal boat has a permanent mooring.

8.  For further information on hydrogen research at Birmingham please visit hydrogen research , magnets

For further information

Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164 or email: