New Clermont voyage offers sustainable travel alternative

In recognition of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the Hudson, a group of RPI students will be making the same voyage as Hudson did. The only difference is that this voyage will be made with pollution-free hydrogen fuel cells, with the hope to raise awareness about sustainability along the students’ journey. The ship will launch on September 21 in Manhattan and make the trip back to Troy in time for Troy Night Out on September 25.

The group is led by William Gathright, a doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He has organized a volunteer team of undergraduate and graduate students from various disciplines. Two fuel cells adorn the 22-foot ship, the New Clermont. Everything for the ship was built by the team, with the exception of the boat itself.

The group is planning to make several stops along the way, showing off their one-of-a-kind boat and talking about the potential environmental and economic benefits of building the nation’s hydrogen economy.

Gathright said in an RPI press release, “We want to share our vision of a time when people can take a pleasure cruise on their boat or drive to the store without leaving a trail of pollution and toxins behind them. We hope to inspire and challenge them to think of ways of making that vision a reality.” 

The units, which are GenDrive Class 3 systems being loaned by students from Latham’s fuel cell developer Plug Power, each weigh about 500 pounds and stand three feet wide by three feet tall.

The project is also recreating the journey made by Robert Fulton 200 years ago. Fulton’s boat, the Clermont, sought to prove the feasibility of steam power to the world. RPI’s New Clermont aims to display the potential of hydrogen. The fuel cells, in which a special membrane separates the hydrogen gas into electrons and protons, creates electricity when the electrons travel around a circuit while the protons pass through the membrane.

“Just as Robert Fulton wanted to prove to the world that steam was a viable, economical means to power boats and unleash the economic potential of our waterways, we want to open people’s eyes to the viability of hydrogen and fuels cells as a way to power boats, and one day maybe even our cars, trucks, and homes,” said Lally School MBA student Leah Rollhaus, who helps lead the New Clermont Project.

The group of students is a recognized non-profit organization through its association with the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship. The students plan to christen the boat, accompanied by President Shirley Ann Jackson on Thursday.

For more information on the New Clermont Project, visit