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Hybrid-Electric Motor Completes Colorado River Trip Through the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association

For the first time, a hybrid-electric motor has powered a Colorado River trip through the entire Grand Canyon. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the technology is being developed through a partnership between commercial river outfitters and the National Park Service.


The weeklong trip from Lees Ferry to Pearce Ferry covered almost 300 miles. The journey tested a nearly silent, electric motor that’s been in development since 2008.

John Dillon is the executive director of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association.

“We want to be environmental stewards. We’re looking for something that’s cleaner, something that’s quieter. Maybe uses less, or none at all, as far as fossil fuels,” Dillon says.

Credit Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association
A boat powered by the hybrid-electric motor prototype on the Colorado River in April.

Though the prototype motor has to be recharged periodically with a generator, it still uses about sixty percent less gasoline than the average engine. Dillon says as battery technology improves, river trips could eventually operate without using fossil fuels.

Credit Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association

“Really, that’s the technology we’re waiting for. The motor itself we’ve kind of honed in on. We think we’re pretty comfortable with the electric motor concept,” Dillon says.

About 20,000 people are guided through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River every year.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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