The first zero emissions fuel cell ferry is being trialled for passengers in San Francisco. The Sea Change vessel is powered by hydrogen fuel cells and batteries, and is the world’s first hydrogen-powered ferry.

The ferry will begin taking passengers along the waterfront in late Spring of this year. A Tugboat bought the ferry from Washington to San Francisco last Sunday.

The 75-passenger catamaran was developed with $3m in state funding by Switch Maritime. The company creates zero-emissions maritime vessels, including the Sea Change, where hydrogen fuel cells are used to spin the ship’s propellors.

The Sea Change holds 10 hydrogen storage tanks that store 246kgs of compressed hydrogen gas at a pressure of 250 bar, which allows the ferry to operate for around 150 nautical miles at a cruising speed of around 12 knots. The ferry can operate for around 16 hours before needing to be refuelled.

Clean energy at sea

The San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) seeks to phase out diesel-powered ferries by the year 2035. In addition to the hydrogen fuelled ferry pilot project, the agency also seeks to roll out battery-electric ferries, having been awarded a $14.9m grant from the California State Transportation Agency last year.

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Passenger ferries and the shipping industry account for around 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and WETA hopes that the pilot project will demonstrate that hydrogen cells can help the industry move away from fossil fuels.

Pace Ralli, CEO of Switch Maritime, told The San Francisco Chroniclethat Sea Change’s use of hydrogen cells is “a monumental step, because hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels are seen as a pathway to zero-carbon solutions for large, high-horsepower applications like ships”.

The $3m grant from The California Air Resources Board is part of a $20m cap-and-trade auction for the development of clean technologies.

The ferry does not produce any emissions when in operation, but operators are currently unable to secure green or zero-emissions hydrogen to power the Sea Change. The use of green hydrogen could be the next step in completely decarbonising the ferrying sector.