Zero-emission hydrogen-powered ferry coming to San Francisco
Sea Change, a zero-emission ferry, will soon start operation in San Francisco Bay. The ferry is fully propelled by hydrogen fuel cells, making it the first of its kind to be used for public transport.
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The 70-foot-long vessel will ferry 75 passengers per trip and service several stops along the San Francisco waterfront. Built at All American Marine shipyard in Bellingham, Washington, the ferry was tested by the U.S. Coast Guard.
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“We’re here in the water, under hydrogen fuel cell power and it’s the first commercial vessel in the world that’s got that propulsion system,” said Pace Ralli, chief executive of Switch Maritime.
Sea Change marks an industry milestone as the world rushes toward zero emissions. Previous years have seen the introduction of clean energy for trucks, cars, trains and luxury boats, but passenger ferry has fallen behind.
Considered one of the best clean energy options, hydrogen fuel cells only emit water and heat. However, using hydrogen cells presents challenges due to bulky cell systems and cost.
Ralli says he first came up with the idea for the ferry while living in New York. In a bid to decarbonize maritime travel, he thought of developing the hydrogen fuel-powered ferry. “There was a project in California that was being sponsored by the California Air Resources Board, and they were working on hydrogen fuel cell as a method for decarbonizing ships, so we joined up with them and funded their project in 2019,” Ralli said.
The ferry is powered by three hydrogen fuel cell stacks that propel the system. It can navigate at speeds of up to 20 knots, and the automated system is operated via a digital touchscreen, which initiates communication with the engine.
“This is going to be the next standard in fuel-cell driven vessels. They’re clean, they’re efficient and they make sense economically on scale,” said All American Marine project manager Jeff Sokolik.