Vietnamese farmers make solar-powered boat

From an idea to create a solar-powered boat to run without fuel, four farmers in Dong Thap Province overcame the skepticism of their neighbors to successfully create one

State officials travel on the solar-powered boat to test it. The boat was created by four farmers in Dong Thap Province.

A solar-powered boat has been successfully created by four farmers in Dong Thap Province in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

The idea to start making the boat came from the need to save money on fuel costs.

Now, their boat can run at a speed of 20kph while making absolutely no engine noise and no pollution. All passengers can hear is the cascading sound of waves crashing on the boat’s hull.

“This boat is friendly to the environment and will not stun wild birds flying away from gardens,” said a local official after trying the boat.

Le Hoang Long, director of the center for tourism and environmental education at Tram Chim National Park in Tam Nong District, called Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper journalists to inform them of the news as happily as if he were the boat creator.

Before the success, no one had believed that the ‘four crazy men’ in Truong Xuan Commune of Thap Muoi District would succeed.

‘Four crazy men’

They are Huynh Thien Liem, Nguyen Van Dung, Huynh Van Trang, and Thai Van Hoang.

They were awarded the name of ‘four crazy men’ when they started working together to produce the solar-powered boat.

As farmers, they started building it in their field without any design or technical drawing in advance.

Under the scorching sunlight, they huddled with one another in the garden all day long and sometimes took turns to jump into the river to experiment with the boat and disassemble a broken screw propeller.

Whenever they are reminded of their boat, the four men burst into loud laughter over their ‘eccentric job.’

Liem put forward the idea first since he works to install solar-powered batteries in areas where the national grid has not reached.

He said he had nurtured the idea for months before sharing it with Dung, a well known mechanic on his neighborhood.

“I feared he would turn down the idea. But he slapped his thigh and said that he had thought about it long before,” Liem recalled.

“We agreed to ask Trang to join since he has hands-on knowledge of machines.”

Things were going smoothly until they started connecting the solar battery with the engine because it continuously broke propellers, Liem said. And they agreed to get advice from Hoang, a local man who is well known for creating boat propellers.

“Long before, locals here only bought propellers made by Hoang,” Trang said.

A quartet was enough for the solar boat, with Liem in charge of solar power, Hoang the propeller, and Trang and Dung the mechanics.

By experimenting on the basis of trial and error, the four farmers produced their first solar-powered boat, which now smoothly cruises local rivers without noise and fuel cost.

First orders

On May 31, a delegation of state officials visited Liem’s house to see and test the boat.

The curious visitors were planning to order similar boats for tourism at Tram Chim National Park.

When he got off the boat, Hung – the Tram Chim director – said, “I highly appreciate their product. It is environment-friendly.”

Nguyen Quang Tuyen, vice director of the Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism in Dong Thap, admitted, “I will order some soon.”

The boat can run at a speed of 20kph and operate for three hours after the sunlight stops.

In technical terms the boat is simple, with just two panels to receive solar power, two batteries to store the power, and an engine with five forward gears and two gears for reverse.

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