Today, Birmingham’s Professor Rex Harris will be speaking about sustainable boating at the Venice boat show as the city clears motorboats, launches and barges from the Grand Canal for five hours. The most dramatic – and unappealing – photograph of its crowded waterways is copyright, but the following picture shows small boats, most using outboard engines.

small boats venice

“This initiative is to raise awareness of the pollution and promote the use of electric or hybrid boats,” said a council spokesman. A parade of the kind of environmentally-friendly vessels that the city is trying to promote will be held on the Grand Canal while it is cleared of other craft.

Ross Barlow canal boat3

Professor Harris, who has worked with engineers at the University of Birmingham to develop a zero-emission hydrogen hybrid canal boat which can carry passengers, is now aiming to convert a freight barge fuelled by hydrogen. As he says, one of the most energy efficient means of moving goods is by canal and the threats of global warming and oil depletion are leading to a resurgence of interest in this means of transport.

Readers new to the site might want to read about his Lunar Society’s 2011 Boulton and Watt Commemoration Lecture.  He talked about hydrogen, sustainability and the role of the city and region, past, present and future, considering two major threats facing our planet: resource depletion and climate change. Both operate on similar timescales and both require urgent remedial action. The PowerPoint display used can compel the attention of the least scientific.

Around 7,000 small craft are registered to use the Venetian waterways, many are noisy, polluting the water and giving off exhaust fumes. They create waves that are eroding the walls of the ancient buildings that line the canals.

Larger craft are operated by the police and ambulance service, but even larger are the massive cruise ships, which bring as many as 30,000 visitors a day during the tourist season. Last April residents protested by taking their dinghies and motor boats and swarming around one of the vast vessels, blaring klaxons and hooters.

The authorities would like to see a gradual switching to electric-powered craft, or boats with hybrid engines. According to the council spokesperson, work is being done on studies and initiatives that might make this transition easier. Authorities would like to see quieter, more environmentally friendly boats like these on the canal.

And in the West Midlands?