March 16, 2011 / 8:23 PM / 6 years ago

Green Inventor Talks Solar Powered Boats

8 Min Read

Before starting Tamarack Electric Boats, Montgomery Gisborne was interested in electric cars, but now he's focused on the water. Since 1993, Gisborne has been involved in the technical aspects of electric vehicles in Canada. Gisborne has been competing in the American version of the Tour del Sol since 1997, placing first in 2003, and he even created a similar race called the Canadian Clean Air Cruise.

To date, Gisborne has logged over 31,000 miles of travel in electric vehicles. But he's not only concerned with cars. In 2003 he built one of the world's first electric snowmobiles, and two years later he founded Tamarack Electric Boats. We've covered solar boats many times, and the company's latest invention, the Loon, caught our eye and when given the opportunity, we thought readers would like to know more about a man who designs such interesting electric vehicles.

EarthTechling (ET): You have an extensive background in electric cars, what made you want to start an electric boat company?

Montgomery Gisborne: Having built electric cars and electrified many other devices such as a snowmobile, I was always looking for a business opportunity in the mix. I had thought of building electric cars for a living, especially after coming in first in the 2003 American Tour del Sol electric car rally, but the reality that you cannot become GM overnight settled in. After much deliberation, I decided that the idea of a solar-powered boat must be a good one, perhaps my best, so I decided to build me first solar boat as a "science project" in 2005. The boat worked so well that I little choice but to purse it!

ET: Was there any specific reason that you were looking to move the company from Canada to the United States?

Gisborne: Sure, more people, water and sun. I think that we brought our ideas to NYS at a time when Canada seemed to focus its attention the Athabasca Tar Sands, and NYS was looking for sustainable product projects to create sustainable jobs. Then there's this crazy little piece of legislation which was brought into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) called the Jones Act which prohibits Canadian companies from selling boats into the US, so we had a triumvirate of good reasons to move across the border.

ET: Was the NYSERDA incentive program the biggest draw to relocate to Rome, NY?

Gisborne: No, probably not. You may have heard the old expression that "it takes a village . . . " I believe it is very true. When I passed through Rome on my solar trek across the state in 2007, i was overwhelmed by the reaction and enthusiasm of the people, more so that anywhere else I had traveled in my solar boats (which says a lot). The entire town seemed to make time to be there to catch our lines as we tossed them to shore, which really impressed me. The mayor of the town clearly saw the vision and has done more than we could ever have expected to convince us that Rome is our home. Incidentally, the first shovelful of earth removed in the construction of the Erie Canal was taken out of the ground pretty much in font of our shop on July 4th, 1817.

I think we would have made the move anyway, without NYSERDA funding, but the funding made it possible and got us started much quicker than if we had to go it completely alone. The funding is great, but it takes more than money to create an industry, it takes drive and determination beyond my own.

ET: Why did you decide on solar-power for the Loon above other electric options?

Gisborne: There are so many reasons that make solar a natural on an electric boat. People look at my boats and say, "Oh, I get it, when the is moored at the it is picked up a free charge." While this is certainly true, the rationale for the solar goes far beyond that. For example, it dramatically reduced Peukert Effect on lead-acid batteries. Without getting into a long-winded technical discussion, this effect has a negative effect on batteries when the boat is under power, reducing the instantaneous capacity of the energy storage cells, and the solar input helps to reduce that effect, thus increasing the effective range the boat can travel on a given charge. This also helps the lead-acid batteries to better compete against other chemistries, such as nickel and lithium-based batteries at lower expense.

I hate oil is the reason why I eschew any internal-combustion options. It is the greatest detriment to the North American economy and a threat to world peace.

ET: You seem to have completed several electric powered journeys, like the one down the Erie Canal. Can you tell us about your favorite, and why those types of tests are important?

Gisborne: I have traveled the Trent-Severn Water and Rideau Canals (Ontario), as well as the Erie. These are all equal in my mind; the Trent-Severn was awesome since it was my first-ever solar crust, and I had no idea whether it would work or not (it did). The Rideau was very scenic and historic, and the Erie Canal had the most wonderful people, and it was the longest crust I have ever completed. Ask me net year and I might tell you it was the Grand Canal (from Beijing to Hangzou)! My daughter may tell you it was the Coney Island-like amusement part at Sylvan Beach, NY. My wife might say her favorite stop was the "Flight of Five" locks as you enter Waterford, NY with the majestic views from up high. I would probably tell you it was the unexpected reaction from the people of Rome, NY, some of whom made a special trip from the Erie Canal Museum dressed in period costumes.

These tests are extremely important because they showed me a world that you can have much more fun without oil than with it. It truly is a burden we place on ourselves. I suffered none from not having to visit the pumps an pay $4 a gallon, all the while knowing that about 1/4 of it would enter into the water unburned (two-stroke) or into the air and water as emissions.

ET: Where do you see the future of electric vehicles, both water and land, trending in the coming years?

Gisborne: We placed first among many entries at the "Future of Electric Vehicles" conference in San Jose last year. My easiest answer to your question is highlighted by that very conference; we saw electric airplanes, electric motorcycles, and a plethora of other similarly-capable craft of all description. I believe that the future is electric, and i am glad to have my opportunity in ringing in the new order. We were on a good track in discovering just how beneficial electricity is and how it could serve mankind all through the 1800s, but we seem to have lost track of our sense when Charles Bettering decided to take a perfectly-good electric motor and attach it as a starter motor to an internal-combustion engine, and our logic seems to have been "clouded" by the emission produced.

Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling

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