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Hungry for more stories on science, culture and technology?Check out Brain Food: Insights and Discoveries from Northern Arizona. From ground breaking scientific research to global music projects, Brain Food profiles some of the unique projects happening in the region and the interesting people behind them. While there are no new episodes of Brain Food, we will continue to maintain the archive here.

Brain Food: First All-Electric Raft Launches On Colorado River

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Colorado River Discovery
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The first all-electric commercial passenger raft launched this summer on the Colorado River. Instead of running on a gas-powered motor, the Helios uses rechargeable lithium ion batteries. It took 10 years to engineer and is a partnership between the river rafting industry and the National Park Service. 

Korey Seyler manages Colorado River Discovery, the company using the Helios. "There's more than 900 pounds of batteries in the bottom of the raft", Seyler says. "You do not see them at all. They're completely underneath a false floor and that floor rides in the Colorado River which does a great job of cooling those batteries down."

The Bureau of Reclamation installed a charging station below Glen Canyon Dam specifically for the Helios. It takes a couple of days to power the batteries for enough energy to make the 16 mile trip downstream to Lee's Ferry. And because it runs on electricity, the Helios is also much quieter than traditional fossil fuel-powered boats. 

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Credit Colorado River Discovery
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Building the Helios, the first all-electric commercial passenger raft on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon

"Our hope for the future with the Helios," Seyler says, "is that this draws awareness and inspires people to push for more technology and a sustainable means. We're really hoping that people see the value of enjoying these beautiful areas and the National Parks and these public lands." He adds, "Everyone should take a vested interest, and it really starts - we hope - with business leaders and the general public to be able to demand this from the market". 

A portion of each ticket sale for a ride on the Helios goes to the Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability program at Northern Arizona University. The funds will be used to encourage student research and development of energy efficient technology.