AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Emitting only water vapour and gliding silently through Amsterdam's centuries-old canals, a canal boat -- a popular tourist attraction -- powered by fuel cells made its debut cruise on Wednesday.

The "Nemo H2", which can carry about 87 people, is the first of its kind designed specifically to run on a fuel cell engine, in which hydrogen and oxygen are mixed to create electricity and water, without producing air-polluting gases.

"That's important in a city like Amsterdam with over 125 canal trips per day," said project manager Alexander Overdiep.


A boat trip around Amsterdam's concentric semi-circles of canals is a popular tourist pastime in the Dutch capital.

From spring, visitors will have the option of a 'CO2 Zero Canal Cruise', for an extra 50 (euro) cents, which will go towards further research into carbon-reducing technology, said Freek Vermeulen, managing director of Lovers boat company.

The new boat cost more than double to build than a canal boat running on a diesel engine, and needs to visit a hydrogen dispensing station for a refill once a day, while normal boats only need a fuel top-up once a week.

But developers of the 3 million euro project, which was partly government funded, said costs would decline as more boats followed this test phase, and if more advanced hydrogen distribution infrastructure emerged.

(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; editing by Ralph Boulton)