Exclusive: London’s Thames Clippers sail towards sustainability

·3-min read
Sean Collins, CEO & co founder of Uber Boat by Thames Clippers (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Sean Collins, CEO & co founder of Uber Boat by Thames Clippers (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

From Putney Pier in the West to Woolwich Pier in the East, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers offers a new way to navigate the grey waters of London’s famous river– on board a high-speed catamaran. And thanks to funding from the Department of Transport through Innovate UK’s Clean Maritime Demonstration Competition, the plan is to make each voyage greener.

“We’re in a very rapidly changing world. We need to have zero-tailpipe [emissions],” says Sean Collins, CEO and co-founder of Uber Boat by Thames Clipper on board the fleet’s sleek new addition, the Venus Clipper.

“The marine industry in general is lagging behind other modes [of transport].”

Three environmental research projects aim to kickstart the Thames’ move towards decarbonisation, starting with ‘Clipper 2.0’, which will study the feasibility of using zero carbon fuel. Currently, the 22-strong fleet of river boats are powered by diesel engines. Changing fuel types is the “key to a sustainable future,” says Collins.

 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Compressed hydrogen gas, liquid hydrogen and methanol will be tested as replacements for diesel, with the help of technical consultants Mayfair Marine.

The trio of research projects involve collaboration with specialist companies, most based in the United Kingdom. “One of the things the Clean Maritime initiative will allow us to do is support British Industry,” says Collins.

Wight Shipyard Co, based on the Isle of Wight, is designing a semi-autonomous prototype vessel. Putting its ‘intelligent electric compulsion’ into action, the boat will have an automated docking system attuned to the tides of the Thames, reducing the power needed to stop the boat.

“Our first three boats, which are now 30-years-old, were built on the Isle of Wight and the yard closed soon after. It wasn’t until 25 years later that there was another yard created on the Isle of Wight capable of building boats again,” says Collins.

Most of the Uber Boats fleet was built in Australia. Yet since the Wight Shipyard Co is back in business, ships are being built locally, saving the environmental and financial cost of transporting them across the world.

And the research the shipyard will help to generate could make waves across the entire maritime sector- the successful elements of the new prototype could well be rolled out in the UK and internationally.

“This is the education bit, working out how to make it happen. As a business, we won’t want to put our best foot forward with something that’s not going to work or not be safe.”

The post-education ‘bit’ is a much longer term plan – the final project, aiming to bring hydrogen as close to the riverside as possible, will be rolled out over the next decade alongside partners like Arup and Shell.

But making green decisions is something that needs to happen immediately. As well as the future-facing initiatives being propelled by the Department of Transport, Uber Boat by Thames Clippers has recently hired an environment manager, Gilmark Mello, to make short-term decisions geared towards improving the business as whole.

“We never had anyone dedicated to environmental aims in the company,” says Collins. “Now he’s focusing on everything from green cleaning products to looking at how we can recycle our waste oils. It’s not just about boats, it’s about everything we do.”

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