IT IS the iconic holiday destination which has enchanted visitors for centuries with its magical waterways and dreamy vistas.

But the 20,000 leisure craft and 550 taxi boats serving Venice’s 32 million visitors every year have a downside – their diesel engines contribute to high levels of air and noise pollution which affect the architecture and health of residents and tourists alike.

That is why experts in Southampton are developing an engine that could prove revolutionary for the UNESCO world heritage site. Engineers at renewable energy company REAPSystems are creating a clean drop-in hybrid diesel electric engine that can be installed by any boat builder and fitted into all existing boats in the Italian city.

Using the latest diesel engine technology paired with a high-power electric motor and a modern lithium-ion battery, the engine can be “clutched out” to allow pure electric drive meaning no noise, no pollution, no vibrations and no fuel consumption.

At medium to high speed, the diesel engine automatically takes over and in diesel mode the electric motor works as a generator, recharging the batteries and pushing the engine into a more efficient operation. The electric motor may also help reduce exhaust emissions.

Professor Suleiman Sharkh, head of mechatronics at the University of Southampton, said: “The benefits are clear: no noise, no pollution, and no vibrations when operating in the city. Our demonstration with the water taxi will inform the local authorities, so they can tighten their regulations. Thus, the reduced maintenance cost and the halved fuel consumption will convince operators to switch to these green engines.”

The prototype for the engine is being crowdfunded, with testing due to take place in Southampton in August.

Contributors putting up just £100 can be part of the test run process themselves when it takes place in Southampton next month.

REAPsystems chief technology officer Dr Dennis Doerffel said: “Our crowdfunding campaign is a complete reversal of the usual commercial approach. We involve the public on our journey. This way we can kickstart the hybrid revolution together.”

l Find out about funding the project at