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New Scripps Institution Of Oceanography Research Vessel Runs On Hydrogen

Artist's rendering of the research vessel that will replace a 40 year old ship in the school's fleet.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Artist's rendering of the research vessel that will replace a 40 year old ship in the school's fleet.

San Diego Oceanographers are getting an environmentally-friendly boost thanks to California’s huge budget surplus.

State officials are giving the school $35 million to build and operate a hybrid fueled ship that’ll get most of its power from hydrogen fuel cells.

New Scripps Institution Of Oceanography Research Vessel Runs On Hydrogen
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

The craft also has diesel engines, but those will only be used on long journeys or as a reserve fuel source if the hydrogen batteries are depleted.

The propulsion system is considered a major innovation for a maritime industry that is currently powered by climate warming fossil fuels.

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The new vessel will replace a 40-year-old ship, the RV Gordon Sproul, which is nearing the end of its service life.

That vessel ran on diesel engines that could consume up top 850 gallons of fuel a day.

“We can use hydrogen for a ship this size,” said Bruce Appelgate, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher. “A hydrogen that uses fuel cells where their only emissions are clean pure water, which our scientists need in laboratories and electricity and a little bit of heat.”

The new research vessel’s propulsion system is considered a zero-emission system

That makes it easier for the school to hit a goal to be carbon neutral by 2035.

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“Today is a good day for us. A good day,” said Toni Atkins, president pro tempore of the California State Senate. “Because we will continue to be setting the trend for others. Not just across our nation and California and up the coast and all the way past Oregon and Washington. But really as a global impact working together to make sure that our planet remains safe.”

Atkins helped usher funding for the craft through the state legislature.

UC San Diego officials say the craft will be used to study the ocean off California’s coast.

The ship it is replacing made regular daytrip cruises with dozens of students on board and it helped map the ocean floor off the coast of Long Beach where thousands of barrels of toxic chemical litter the sea floor.

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“With 840 miles of coastline, it is important for California to manage its access to the vast resources of the Pacific Ocean,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “To do that, we need to better understand our coastal environments, and how climate change is affecting them. That’s where Scripps Institution of Oceanography can help. This new state-of-the-art research vessel will expand our capability to understand and protect our coastline and train UC San Diego undergraduate and graduate students through unparalleled hands-on learning.”

The new vessel will be outfitted with the latest research gear, including radar, fish imaging systems, and geological sampling systems.

The ship will also have state of the art laboratories that allow for interdisciplinary research.

Scripps officials say it will take three years to build the craft.