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'It’s completely magical': France’s first hydrogen-powered river boat is available for hire

The hydrogen-powered boat is almost completely silent
The hydrogen-powered boat is almost completely silent Copyright AFP
Copyright AFP
By Hannah Brown with AFP
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France's first hydrogen-powered tourist river boat has recently been cruising the canals of Burgundy, with zero carbon emissions.

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A relaxing canal cruise is a lovely way to spend a sunny summer’s day. But not so much if the boat’s engine is churning out thick exhaust fumes. It’s neither relaxing, nor good for the planet.

French boating company Les Canalous is looking to make river cruises greener with their hydrogen-powered boat.

"In terms of sailing comfort, it's completely magical,” says CEO Alfred Carignant.

“There's no noise, no vibration from the engine, no exhaust, no smell. And in fact what you hear is the lapping of the water on the hull, so it's really magical."

Eco-friendly boat hire

The hydrogen-powered boat is the first of its kind in France. It has an electric engine which is powered using green hydrogen.

The boat cruises gently along the canal, almost silently and without producing any CO2 emissions.

"There may be a little frustration at not moving faster, because we're still in a bit of a pioneering phase," explains Alfred.

Right now, the boat is only available for day hire but the fuel tank is large enough to power you all day so you won’t need to stop to refuel.

Is it easy to drive a canal boat?

The boat can be hired in Digoin ahead of a day’s cruise along the canals of Burgundy.

Visitors wishing to hire the boat need no prior experience nor a professional licence to drive it. According to Alfred, it’s really easy to control.

“We have a charter licence which allows us to issue a provisional licence (included in the price),” he tells Euronews Travel.

Before getting on the boat, renters are given a short training course to learn the rules of navigation and are given some navigation exercises to complete.

“There is always a little apprehension when you pass the first lock but once you have done it once, it’s child's play,” Alfred adds.

A day’s hire costs €269 and the boat can carry up to 12 people.

Is a hydrogen-powered boat really better?

It’s not quite as simple as hydrogen being good or bad. There are several categories depending on how environmentally friendly its production is.

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Grey hydrogen, for example, is produced using fossil fuels and so really isn’t much better as a fuel source than just a regular petrol engine.

However, Les Canalous’ new boat uses green hydrogen which is produced using wind power.

Though this is the first of its type, Alfred says they are currently trying to develop a hydrogen-powered habitable boat for longer term rentals - which makes up most of Les Canalous’ business.

Eventually Les Canalous hopes to have hydrogen-powered boats available at all 17 of its bases across France. But for now, there are a few obstacles to overcome.

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"The problem of hydrogen is also a problem of refuelling infrastructure. Today, there are service stations fairly evenly spread across the country. For hydrogen, we're a long way from that,” says Philippe Cauneau, a transport engineer from Ademe.

Sailors might struggle to find hydrogen on the water to fuel their boats, he adds. “And right now there isn't exactly a solution in place, so we have to use temporary solutions."

Watch the video above to learn more about eco-friendly canal cruising.

Video editor • Hannah Brown

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