A commercial ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells is slated to begin operating between the ports of San Francisco and Oakland this summer.
Switch Maritime LLC and boat manufacturer All American Marine Inc. aim to deliver the passenger ferry Sea Change to the San Francisco Bay in late May, in time to serve passengers in June, Reuters reported April 21.
Switch, a developer of hydrogen-powered ferries, raised $5 million in crowdfunding in 2021 for the 70-foot, 75-passenger vessel. The project also received funding from a $3 million grant from the California Air Resources Board, which said the vessel would "demonstrate the use of an electric ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cells for passenger and freight service."
The company unveiled Sea Change in a joint statement with All American Marine earlier this year following sea trials in Bellingham Bay from All American Marine's headquarters in Bellingham, Wash.
Though Sea Change is not the first hydrogen-powered ferry — the hydrogen-powered MF Hydra launched in Norway in 2021 — it is the first to use gaseous hydrogen in a fuel cell in lieu of burning liquid hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, according to Switch. The vessel runs on 360 kW of hydrogen fuel cells with a 246 kg storage tank capacity.
The project is the latest in a wave of research and development aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. Ships and boats accounted for about 2% of U.S. transportation emissions in 2019, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"By working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, with innovative technology partners, and with best-in-class shipyards such as All American Marine, we can make the transition to decarbonized shipping a reality today," Switch co-founder and CEO Pace Ralli said in a February news release. "We don't have to wait."
Meanwhile, a handful of passenger pilot programs are floating alternative power sources for ferries with up to $500 million in grant money made available by the 2021 federal Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. The latest round of grants, announced Feb. 18 by the U.S. Department of Transportation, includes $7.7 million to Kitsap Transit in Kitsap County, Wash., to replace a diesel vessel with a battery-electric one, along with the installation of charging infrastructure, and $3.4 million to the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority to build a zero-emissions ferry.
Unlike batteries, which require special infrastructure and take more time to recharge, the draw of hydrogen is its flexibility. According to All American Marine, Sea Change's hydrogen fuel cell "affords the same operational flexibility as diesel with zero emissions and less maintenance."
The downside is the lack of availability of zero-emissions hydrogen, with about 95% of hydrogen produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming of natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
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